By saying (if the quote is accurate) that a consultant is “skeptical” of the FAA’s planned study to reduce noise is not a propitious means of beginning an effort to relieve the FAA ATC procedures impacts on Portola Valley, CA.
It is correct to say that the statutory mission starts with safety and that its primary goals in ATC architecture design are safety and efficiency. In actions, like this new set of routings and procedures, are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 USC § 4321et seq.; that statute and its required procedures impose on the FAA certain, complex standards on the FAA.
That is a long preamble to clarify that the FAA ATC organization should have to balance safety, efficiency and impact on neighborhoods when it revises the air traffic tracks. It is clear that the staff is expert in assessing safety and efficiency, but that the understanding of the impact of their proposed routes on the people on the ground is not necessarily in the FAA’s highest expertise. They try to avoid sensitive areas, but they are not necessarily knowledgeable about the local nuances.
What is important to understand is that the San Francisco Bay Air Traffic Control Architecture is as complex and demanding as almost any other US airspace. Three major airports with busy towers require the integration of heavy commercial airline demand. Geography and topography further complicate the ATC equation’s solution. Finally, the area’s weather frequently further reduces the degrees of freedom when trying to manage these flows.
It is not useful to assume that the FAA’s choices are malicious in their drawing of lines. It is, however, worthwhile to accept the notion that once these public servants have devoted many hours in creating new patterns of flights in this area, their preference for their prior work product is not unexpected. Given that history, it should not be disturbing to see a predisposition against finding a dramatically different option. That inability to find new, better options is born of their investment in the design of their initial solution, which they believe balances the three goals of safety, efficiency and environment.
The realistic approach to solving this complex public policy issue is for the community to analyze the FAA’s problems, recognize the validity of their constraints, find subject matter experts who are qualified to design win/win alternatives, prepare all of the technical supporting papers and speak to the FAA in a vocabulary which these civil servants understand.
Portola Valley may be able to ameliorate its noise problems. To effectively advocate (vs. argue) their position, they need to accept the limitations of the ATC and need to find a way to pose options which are sensitive to their needs and meet the FAA’s safety and efficiency goals.