FAA might consider a different approach to implementing NextGen patterns at specific airports

reagan national airport nextgen noise
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Implementing NextGen Patterns

The FAA Should Adopt a More Proactive Approach

One of the unwritten rules of regulators opines that “when all stakeholders are equally opposed to a proposal, you obviously got it right.” The FAA NextGen ATC implementation team may read the above three headlines and smile, feeling that they have met the equal opposition test. But as the FAA staff assigned to meet with the local groups may sense, the level of animosity to the implementation of these tracks is more the level of impact which the models would have forecast.

So why all these problems?

1. Is the model wrong?

nextgen airport traffic model

a. As with any predictive tool, there are assumptions built into the algorithms. The objective data, engineering measurement at the prescribed points along the routes, are based on hard historical data. However, the past modeling numbers did not involve tracks flown with the precision of a RNAV route; that translates to more intense impact on the ground. Perhaps the weighting given to the Night Average Sound Level (DNL) 65 decibels (dB) numbers recorded along the departure/arrival routes should be reconsidered?

airplane airport noise exposure reduction

b. In spite of the overall reduction in the measured noise levels shown above, the population’s reaction does not reflect the significant amelioration of the aircraft noise profiles. It is easy to postulate that expectations about noise impacts are increasing among airport neighbors. It is not clear whether there are objective metrics to reflect these increased noise sensitivities. Even if there was data, there is a substantial policy question whether this “self-induced” noise aversion should be rewarded.

→ FAA is studying the problem:

Noise Reduction and Research

The FAA is evaluating the method for measuring effects of aircraft noise to determine whether to change the FAA’s current approach to managing noise impacts and consideration of compatible land use and justification for federal expenditures for areas that are not compatible with airport noise.

In February 2013, the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO’s) Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) agreed to a new global noise reduction standard. The FAA participates in the CAEP meetings and supports this new standard. The most beneficial area of future noise reduction is technology development to reduce source noise. The FAA has an active program, The Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions, and Noise (CLEEN) program, to advance the development of technologies to further reduce noise from aircraft. This program supports FAA’s technology and alternative jet fuel solution sets. CLEEN will develop and mature environmentally-friendly technologies for civil subsonic jet aircraft. These technologies will help achieve NextGen goals to reduce aviation noise and emissions impacts. One of the goals of the CLEEN program is to develop certifiable aircraft technology that reduces noise levels by 32dB cumulative, relative to the ICAO noise standards. The program also focuses on maturing and demonstrating aircraft and alternative jet fuel technologies to accelerate commercialization of these technologies into current and future aircraft.

c. Reconsider the noise as generated at the source; the FAA issued a notice that it would research the feasibility of a Stage 5.

2. Is the NEPA review process a problem?

a. Congress was impressed with the macro environmental benefits and created a lesser standard for review of NextGen. That exception was warranted on a national basis, but at a local level the impacts were/are unexpectedly severe. Should Congress reconsider or more immediately, should the FAA voluntarily adopt a more rigorous standard NOW.

b. faa nextgen airport airplane noiseATC design and NextGen realignment are not intuitive. The FAA would be well advised to provide community relations representative to educate the local citizens. The ATC staff has a set of acronyms and their own jargon. Inserting someone knowledgeable and better communicators might improve the dialogue.

c. The design of airspace is a complex science with more than a soupcon of art. The FAA is engaged in a systematic campaign of revising the air traffic control patterns around airports, all over the country, in order to align the traffic routes with the benefits of the NextGen navigational precision guidance. Any ATC decision to draw line in its maps involves a mufti-variate balancing of safety, environment (both in terms of the airlines’ consumption of fuel and the flights noise impacts on the ground) and efficiency. That involves simultaneous calculus and it is difficult to discern which of the factors drove the choice of one alternative, after the fact. To create a new sheet of lines for these operations is even more recondite To put forward a proposed ATC structure, which will be credible to the FAA, the person has to have knowledge of:

i. comprehensive aircraft performance (safe and efficient),

ii. the capabilities of the navigational system on board and on the ground,

iii. the way in which flights can flow safely and efficiently,

iv. the skill required of the controllers to guide the planes through the proposed maneuvers,

v. the capacity of the runways/taxiways to accept landings, the throughput from the takeoffs to the surrounding TRACON and ARTCC airspace,

vi. alternative procedures in the event of some error, AND

vii. the impacts of these alternatives on the people on the ground.

The FAA is an expert at all of the first six factors; they understand the science of the last element, but may lack some of the sensitivity associated with understanding the neighborhood needs.

I. The essential ingredient of the FAA’s management of new airspace proposals is their mastery of this complex calculus. The effort required to estimate the noise impact is significant because of the macro scale of the multiple airport Nextgen implementations. Once their proposal is on the table with a finding of no significant impact,  it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince the person(s) who designed the routes to alter any aspect materially because of the significant amount of effort to reevaluate environmental impacts of alternatives.

airplane noise nextgenII. One way to reverse the “power” of the proposer’s position is to start the process with a community-based ATC architecture. This initiative must include all of the seven elements listed above. Failing to incorporate critical elements of RNV benefits, to marginalize safety or to include the procedures upon which controllers rely guarantees that the FAA team receiving this draft can belittle, reject it and replace it with their agency tracks and procedures.

→ This suggests that the communities involved in these Metro NextGen realignment would be well served to be provided, at the federal government’s expense, expert consultants. The likelihood that, with such support, the FAA and the citizens could arrive at a WIN/WIN solution.

The environmental and operational gains which NextGen can bring to Reagan National Airport are immense:

Performance Indicator (FY) 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Average Daily Capacity
Number of Operations

During reportable hours, the average daily sum of the Airport Departure Rate (ADR) and Airport Arrival Rate (AAR) reported by fiscal year (FY). The reportable hours vary by airport.

1,087 1,074 1,078 1,056 1,065 1,042 1,046 1,049
Average Hourly Capacity During Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC)
Number of Operations

The average hourly capacity reported during IMC weather conditions (as defined by ASPM). Capacity is defined as the sum of Airport Departure Rate (ADR) and Airport Arrival Rate (AAR). It is calculated based on the reportable hours at the destination airport. The reportable hours vary by airport.

65 63 63 62 62 59 59 58
Performance Indicator (FY) 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Average Gate Arrival Delay
Minutes per Flight

During reportable hours, the yearly average of the difference between the Actual Gate-In Time and the Scheduled Gate-In Time for flights to the selected airport from any of the ASPM airports. The delay for each fiscal year (FY) is calculated based on the 0.5th — 99.5th percentile of the distributions for the year. Flights may depart outside reportable hours, but must arrive during them. The reportable hours vary by airport.

2.4 1.3 3.8 1.6 4.4 2.9 2.6 3.9
Average Number of Level-offs per Flight
Counts per Flight

The count of level-offs as flights descend from cruise altitudes to the arrival airport, averaged for the fiscal year.

1 1 3.7 3.6 3.2 3.2 3.1 3.2
Distance in Level Flight from Top of Descent to Runway Threshold
Nautical Miles per Flight

The distance flown during level-off segments as flights descend from cruise altitudes to the arrival airport, averaged for the fiscal year (FY).

1 1 53.0 51.8 47.4 46.6 44.8 44.0
Effective Gate-to-Gate Time
Minutes per Flight

During reportable hours, the difference between the Actual Gate-In Time at the destination (selected) airport and the Scheduled Gate-Out Time at the origin airport. Flights may depart outside reportable hours, but must arrive during them. The reportable hours vary by airport and the results are reported by fiscal year (FY).

117.7 119.8 121.8 122.5 130.5 131.0 133.2 135.6
Taxi-In Time
Minutes per Flight

During reportable hours, the yearly average of the difference between Wheels-On Time and Gate-In Time for flights arriving at the selected airport from any of the Aviation System Performance Metrics (ASPM) airports. Flights may depart outside reportable hours, but must arrive during them. The reportable hours vary by airport.

5.2 5.4 5.6 5.1 5.2 5.4 5.7 6.4
Taxi-Out Time
Minutes per Flight

During reportable hours, the yearly average of the difference between Gate-Out Time and Wheels-Off Time for flights from the selected airport to any of the ASPM airports. Flights must depart during reportable hours, but may arrive outside them. The reportable hours vary by airport.

17.9 17.7 18.0 17.3 18.6 18.5 18.8 19.7
1 Consistent data for the time period prior to FY 2011 are not available

The community response from most of the NextGen implementation plans suggests that something is not quite right. The FAA may choose to consider with the formula which it has been using with little positive response. The above list of benefits should cause the FAA to reconsider its tactics.

If the FAA continues to rely on its hard line approach, some creative lawyer might attempt to reopen the Supreme Court precedent found at Griggs v. Allegheny County, 369 U.S. 84 (1962). The argument might be that the FAA, not the proprietor, has selected where the noise impact is located.

It would seem advisable for the FAA to adopt a more proactive approach.


FAA Says Study Found No Significant Noise Impacts to Bethesda Area with Flight Path Changes

Reagan National Airport's flight patterns causing noise problems for Fairfax Co. neighborhoods

D.C. wants FAA to corral noisy flights departing Reagan National
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1 Comment on "FAA might consider a different approach to implementing NextGen patterns at specific airports"

  1. Why cant the FAA raise the cost of Airline ticket purchases significantly so that there will be much less air traffic causing global warming and wrecking the peace of the populace?????

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