Raiders Stadium Obstruction Evaluation
Part 77 is More Calculus than Straight Line Geometry
“The Raiders have asked the Federal Aviation Administration to review 21 different points on the 62-acre piece of land where the new stadium will be built, to make sure it will not hinder aircraft operations at McCarran International Airport. The Raiders have not disclosed the height of the proposed 1.9-billion dollar stadium. The FAA may also look at other factors, including stadium lighting and post-game fireworks that could affect planes passing through the nation’s 8th busiest airport. The FAA does not have authority over local building decisions. However, a Clark County ordinance states that the project cannot be approved if the FAA finds any structure, including a stadium, to be an airspace hazard.”
The FAA’s exercise of its Obstruction Evaluation under 14 CFR Part 77 is one of its most difficult regulatory decisions. The essential mission of this set of regulations is the SAFE, EFFICIENT USE, AND PRESERVATION OF THE NAVIGABLE AIRSPACE. The three axes of the decisional criteria—safety, efficiency and preservation of the NAS—involve numerous objective and more than a few subjective points.
The FAA does not decide what specific proposal (actually a constellation of dimensions) is best; its job is more akin to a baseball umpire calling balls and strikes. Part 77 Subpart B establishes the FAA review process with the following statement (14 CFR § 77.7):
“…you must submit to the FAA a completed FAA Form 7460-1, Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration. FAA Form 7460-1…”
Based on an initial review the FAA may initiate an Aeronautical Study under 14 CFR § 77.25(b), which states:
“The purpose of an aeronautical study is to determine whether the aeronautical effects of the specific proposal and, where appropriate, the cumulative impact resulting from the proposed construction or alteration when combined with the effects of other existing or proposed structures, would constitute a hazard to air navigation.”
Once that singular set of data is submitted on the Form 7460-1, the FAA staff begins calculating all of the parameters of these potential impacts. It is a substantial undertaking by the FAA and requires substantial time to assess. The staff uses the criteria of Subpart C which includes examinations as suggested by these figures:
As well as the considerations set forth in 14 CFR § 77.29:
(a) The FAA conducts an aeronautical study to determine the impact of a proposed structure, an existing structure that has not yet been studied by the FAA, or an alteration of an existing structure on aeronautical operations, procedures, and the safety of flight. These studies include evaluating:
(1) The impact on arrival, departure, and en route procedures for aircraft operating under visual flight rules;
(2) The impact on arrival, departure, and en route procedures for aircraft operating under instrument flight rules;
(3) The impact on existing and planned public use airports;
(4) Airport traffic capacity of existing public use airports and public use airport development plans received before the issuance of the final determination;
(5) Minimum obstacle clearance altitudes, minimum instrument flight rules altitudes, approved or planned instrument approach procedures, and departure procedures;
(6) The potential effect on ATC radar, direction finders, ATC tower line-of-sight visibility, and physical or electromagnetic effects on air navigation, communication facilities, and other surveillance systems;
(7) The aeronautical effects resulting from the cumulative impact of a proposed construction or alteration of a structure when combined with the effects of other existing or proposed structures.
Typically, reviews of the initial proposal result in findings of hazard. The opening Form 7460-1 submission is often a learning exercise by the submitter. From that iteration the FAA hazard determination, the applicant learns about the hard points within the airspace. The next submissions refine the structure’s intersection with the FAA imaginary surfaces. It is rare that early Form 7460-1 constellation of points meet all of the FAA requirements, in part because the land developer’s goals prefer heights and avoid having to place the base of the structure deeper in the ground. It is an exercise of multiple variables, some of which are offsetting and some are absolutes.
It has been said that Part 77 is more calculus than straight line geometry. Critics have also complained that some of its criteria are quite subjective. The dialogue between the proponent and the FAA is critical to the process; if the participants trust each other, speak the same language and demonstrate command of the complexity of the criteria, then the final solution will be reached more expeditiously.
On the other hand, if the communication is not clear, the definition of a configuration which meets all of the safety, efficiency and NAS concerns as well as the builder’s financial requirements can consume considerable time.