3 Airports Obstructed by Trees & the Importance of
Flight Procedure Optimization
To most airport directors, when they hear FAA Part 77 from their inspectors, they cringe. They associate the Obstruction Evaluation (OE) regulations with loss of capacity due reduction of minima caused by a building being constructed near the airport’s imaginary surfaces or the growth of trees or any of these rules:
- any construction or alteration exceeding 200 ft above ground level; or
- any construction or alteration:
- within 20,000 ft of a public use or military airport which exceeds a 100:1 surface from any point on the runway of each airport with its longest runway more than 3,200 ft;
- within 10,000 ft of a public use or military airport which exceeds a 50:1 surface from any
point on the runway of each airport with its longest runway no more than 3,200 ft;
- within 5,000 ft of a public use heliport which exceeds a 25:1 surface; or
- any highway, railroad or other traverse way whose prescribed adjusted height would exceed the above noted standards: or
- when requested by the FAA; or
- any construction or alteration located on a public use airport or heliport regardless of height or location.
The below three airports, in Westchester, NY, Portland, OR and Lebanon, NH, all were negatively impacted by the threat of growing trees piercing the approach or sideline restrictions. At White Plains, for example, The New York Times reported
“At the insistence of the Federal Aviation Administration, which expressed concerns about the trees in 1989, the airport was forced to shutter 1,300 of the 4,451 feet it had on the smaller runway. The county spent six years suing several parties in Connecticut to address the issue, but lost the chance to restore the runway when the litigation failed.
The trees have only gotten taller since the litigation wound down some 20 years ago. Some are easily 75 feet tall, but even stubby trees on hilltops have airport officials fretting that they may have to close down more runway to maintain an adequate safety buffer.”
For lots of good, green reasons, cutting trees is not the preferred solution. The neighbors in rural New Hampshire complained bitterly when that airport topped off the arboreal buffer.
In Oregon, the airport removed the taller obstructions and replaced them lower-growing, native vegetation. That positive remediation is a good example of a different approach.
Controllers and the specialists, who design/redesign the airspace procedures, are extremely busy with pressing problems and the added implementing NextGen, which is the FAA’s #1 focus. The sort of efficiency benefits, which a Flight Procedure Optimization effort can add to an airport, may not obtain the priority in light of these other competing demands on the FAA ATC staff’s time.
How can these improvements to an airport’s efficiency be obtained?
By engaging a consulting team composed of an independent team of flight procedures and air traffic control experts who:
- know the FAA’s preferred procedures,
- have written similar revisions to instrument procedures,
- are able to survey and/or mitigate existing obstructions to FAA acceptable standards,
- have justified changes in the airport minima,
- have experience in evaluating obstructions and established their credibility with the FAA reviewing staffs,
- are knowledgeable about the new operating parameters permitted by RNAV and RNP,
- will develop a full package to the FAA for their approval with minimal workload imposition on the airport and regional FAA employees.
Why engage consultants to make these technical assessments, evaluations and recommended changes?
Here are a few of the potential safety, efficiency, economic and operational outcomes which may be delivered sooner than normal regulatory processing:
- higher percentage of flights landing during low visibility and all weather conditions – improved safety,
- better on-time arrival and departure rates,
- greater aircraft accessibility,
- greater attractiveness of your airport to airlines and business aviation operators,
- enhanced eligibility of your airport for more Airport Improvement Program funding due to its greater capacity potential.
Over time, this study should pay for itself with
- increased landing fees,
- more commercial airline revenues,
- added fuel flowage fees,
- collateral spending by passengers and airport tenants,
- greater interest of potential economic development opportunities to your community (=increased tax base).
An airport, under classical economic terms is a public utility; it serves as an important local resource for citizens and the economy. By completing a Flight Procedure Optimization, the Airport Director will enhance the value of this existing asset to her/his community.