FAA asked to wait on fully implementing flight paths

The Metropolitan Airports Commission is requesting the FAA wait until July 2015 to revisit area navigation technology on two runways.

The technological changes would concentrate the flight paths over southwest Minneapolis and Edina.

MAC Executive Director Jeffrey Hamiel asked in a letter that the FAA partially implement area navigation technology, approved by MAC in November, before it begins the process of implementing the technology for runways 30 Left and 30 Right. The partial implementation is expected to be completed in September 2014, according to Chad Leqve, MAC manager of noise, environment and planning.

The Feb. 1 letter proposing the implementation framework was in response to Hamiel’s meeting with FAA Director of Airspace Service Dennis Roberts in January in Washington, D.C.

Edina Mayor Jim Hovland pointed out that the delay gives everyone time to study RNAV and figure out a solution that works for the Twin Cities metro area.

When the FAA begins the process for 30L and 30R in a few years, it’s vital to engage communities, including Richfield, Minneapolis and Edina, according to Hamiel.

“Moreover, the effort should include a willingness on behalf of the FAA to consider procedure changes to address community concerns, in circumstances where such changes would not impact safety or efficiency,” he writes.

In the week before MAC’s November vote on the new technology, called RNAV, Edina and Minneapolis residents loudly voiced their opposition because it would create concentrated flight paths over the two cities. Hovland credited the MAC and local FAA staff for recognizing that Edina didn’t get a “fair shake” during the public information process.

Since that MAC meeting, Edina and Minneapolis have created the MSP FairSkies Coalition to keep up-to-date on the RNAV implementation. MAC’s Noise Oversight Committee is also expected to add Edina to the six other cities, including St. Louis Park, comprising its at-large seat during its meeting in March.

The council was originally requesting its own seat on NOC and Councilmember Ann Swenson wondered if the cities with NOC seats share boundaries with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport when Leqve visited the council’s meeting on Feb. 19.

The seats are decided based on the airplane noise level to which the city is subjected, calculated using a computer model required by the FAA, Leqve said. They don’t have permanent noise monitors in Edina, he said.

“So even though we have planes going over Edina now, you couldn’t monitor what those planes are given in noise,” Councilmember Ann Swenson responded. She suggested the MAC monitor airplane noise in Edina so they will know how much the noise level could potentially change when they begin looking at implementing RNAV on runways 30L and 30R.

In addition to engaging the communities, the FAA needs to begin discussions with community leaders early on to allow expectations to be established and community concerns to be addressed earlier, Hamiel states.

Councilmember Josh Sprague pointed out that last fall, Edina leaders learned about the possibility of RNAV being implemented from newspaper articles and not from MAC staff. Swenson echoed this, saying they didn’t have representation on NOC and Edina’s MAC representative, Lisa Peilen, didn’t notify them of this possible change.

Councilmember Joni Bennett pointed out that Peilen made presentations about RNAV to other cities in her district, but didn’t present to Edina.

“From our perspective as a leadership team, I think it would be important going forward that there’s staff-level outreach earlier. That’s a faster mechanism for you anyway, to just reach out to somebody in the cities who may be affected and say,’Hey, help us get the word out, so we can have a more effective public process,’” Sprague said.

The origins of the RNAV implementation at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport began in 2007, but the time table began to “compress” at the end of the process, causing the situation that unfolded in November, Leqve said in response to Sprague’s question as to why Edina staff wasn’t notified.

The NOC began discussing RNAV in 2007 and the FAA decided in 2010 that it should be implemented in the entirety of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, Leqve said. The public input process was originally scheduled for four to six months, but instead lasted six weeks and MAC staff tried to do the best job they could to get the information out to the public in that time frame, he said.

Information was published about open houses in the Twin Cities beginning in September.  The concern expressed during the public information process was that it was moving too fast, Leqve said. It was “messy” and could have been better, he said. However, at the end of all of it, he said he felt residents’ opinions had been heard.

Council members also asked for clarification over the confusion on whether RNAV would create one concentrated flight path or would continue to have planes fan out over the cities.

“The picture in the Star Tribune made it look like it was one pathway and that started the panic, as well it should. It got our attention, but in reality, what can we expect if RNAV is eventually implemented here? Is it really one pathway or is it going to continue to fan out?” she asked.

Leqve explained that currently they use primary paths for planes off each runway and each path has a wide band of tracts. Wind and when a plane is required to turn creates variability in the tracts, he said. RNAV will tighten that width of tracts, but each runway will continue to have multiple headways.

The city of Richfield favored the implementation of RNAV off runways 30L and 30R in November because it would cause planes to fly on the correct path over homes that have been mitigated for the noise. Planes now can get off track by wind, which causes them to fly over homes that haven’t been mitigated.

Hovland said he wants the FAA to have a wider array of tracts rather than a few concentrated flight paths.

“As we move forward on this thing, I think the people in Edina will tell us, yeah go ahead and use RNAV if they’re interested in safety and efficiency and this is the next generation of technology that’s going to be used,” he said. “But use it the right way. Create multiple tracts going out.”

 

Contact Lisa Kaczke at lisa.kaczke@ecm-inc.com

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