John Hickenlooper’s Letter to the FAA on Noise Impact
Provides the FAA with no Substantive Guidance Among Difficult Alternatives
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration to “convey concerns” about the location of a flight path that sends aircraft over Boulder, Louisville, Nederland and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area (the letter, oddly, is not available at the Governor’s website). From a number of news reports, here are excerpts of his missive, dated March 25, 2017:
- He addressed “the location of the FOOOT pathway to and from Denver International Airport”
- noting that in July there were 2,000 flights on the path amounting to about 70 overflights per day,
- some of them occurring two or three minutes apart.
- “We understand the challenge of balancing our transportation needs and maintaining our already high quality of life…With this in mind, we wish to share concerns our local constituents have raised due to the FOOOT pathway.”
- Hickenlooper urges continued collaboration with elected officials and people in the communities “in order to find a workable solution that allows for continued service at (DIA) while mitigating the impact on our wilderness areas and citizens.
- “We are confident that together the FAA and our citizens can come to a mutually accommodating solution,” the governor wrote.
The DEN Metroplex plan is one step in the national NextGen implementation.
Metroplex is a geographic area covering several airports, serving major metropolitan areas and a diversity of aviation stakeholders. Congestion, airport activity in close geographical proximity, and other limiting factors such as environmental constraints combine to reduce efficiency in busy Metroplexes.
Denver International is one of the country’s major air transportation hubs (#5). The technological advances of that new AT system are expected to benefit the national, regional, Colorado and Denver economies as expressed below on the DEN Metroplex website.
By optimizing airspace and procedures in the metroplex, the FAA provides solutions on a regional scale, rather than focusing on a single airport or set of procedures. The optimization plan takes into account all airports and airspace that support each metropolitan area as well as how air traffic in those areas interacts with other metroplexes. It considers myriad factors including safety, efficiency, capacity, access and environmental impact.
Using a consistent, repeatable approach, study teams of FAA and aviation community experts analyze the operational challenges of metroplexes and explore airspace and procedures optimization opportunities. Collaborative design and implementation teams then put in place the solutions the study teams recommend, including performance-based navigation procedures and airspace redesign.
Impacts of the implementation of many NextGen flight procedures has demonstrated higher levels of community annoyance than the planning process predicted. Citizens living close to the NextGen flight procedure implementations across the nation have expressed annoyance above the levels predicted in the FAA’s planning process.
The scope and complexity of the Metroplex project changes are unprecedented. Part of the problem in the FAA’s assessment of the DEN impact is attributable to its reliance on measurement tools were designed for navigation technology of the 1980’s. The precise guidance of the NextGen system increases the neighbor noise perception because its advantage (tighter tracking) reduces dispersion of aircraft. The NextGen level of annoyance is a product of the frequency of overflights at much lower noise levels. New noise relative to relocated flight paths over previously quiet communities creates higher levels of annoyance.
The current FAA thresholds of noise impact significance rely on increases of DNL Noise Exposure Level at various noise exposure levels as shown below.
Feedback is what the FAA is after, to help determine whether it should make changes to the preliminary designs before beginning the project’s draft Environmental Assessment. More public workshops would be held after the draft is completed (expected for 2018).
The letter from the governor may get the fleeting attention of the FAA, but it provides the FAA with no substantive guidance among difficult alternatives. However, the meetings scheduled in the next two months represent the communities’ best opportunity to influence this process in the short term.
To have an effect in these meetings, it is critical that the Governor and the communities engage with the Airport leadership to analyze together:
- The pre and post FOOOT change of the actual flight paths.
- Identify the noise hotspots – neighborhoods, churches, schools etc.
- Identify rational alternatives to reduce impacts (with all communities represented to solve rather than relocate the problems).
- Recognize that the solution likely will require communities sharing the burden of noise.
The advances of the evolution of technology represented by NextGen require new tools to manage the outcomes. The fuel and emission savings need to find the appropriate balance with noise impacts.
The FAA has recognized the need nationwide to address NextGen noise impacts. DEN leadership has a long partnership with the surrounding communities to address noise. The newly Impacted communities should engage the airport immediately to affect this planning cycle. The Governor can and should help his citizens develop a consensus on this FAA proposal. Without more, the FAA will have a confusing, conflicting record before them, making the decision to implement its original proposal.