Congress and the FAA open processes, but DIY will not workCarpe Diem may!

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Congress and the FAA are considering processes to help communities to re-review the new ATC architecture occasioned by the FAA’s NextGen. That sounds good, but do the neighborhoods need something more than DIY kits to arrive at a win/win solution? A recent study for the noise impact at Chicago’s O’Hare shows how some added help may arrive at an answer which does not diminish safety, still meets the rigorous safety and AT protocols AND minimizes the noise impact.

This new technology allowed a design and implementation of routes which were safer, greener and more efficient. The precision of this new satellite-based system made the actual flight patterns more accurate and thus tended to concentrate noise over the selected corridors. The FAA has completed studies at a number of airports and the residents have not been thrilled.

Arizona U.S. senators John McCain and Jeff Flake introduced an amendment to the federal Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Bill. [Fifteen Members of the 114th Congress have introduced a parallel bill, HR 3965 entitled “FAA Community Accountability Act of 2015”]. In the Senate legislation, which is supposed to allocate funds, the McCain/Flake language would require the FAA to review the NextGen changes in place and to work with local airports. This statute, if passed by the House, would mandate that the air traffic control designers must mitigate noise impacts. Assumedly, the same managers, who spent several hundred hours creating the first iteration (one which they felt met the safety, efficiency and environmental factors, will see the errors of their way and define a new win/win solution. OR NOT?)

Both the Senate and House bills only create a process. Neither transmits the expertise to identify techniques which might reduce the noise.


In order to lay out a new ATC structure, one has to have a large design kit and the knowledge to draw safe, efficient and green patterns.


The job of balancing all three of the major variables requires a high level of statistical analysis, modeling and multi-variate optimization. To do so, one must balance the three major goals (noise level vs. flow v. safety) and that uses many equations and very sophisticated calculus. The Congress did not include that DIY kit either.


Finally, the science of route design incorporates the science of safety. That requires knowledge of aircraft speeds, their collective ability to maneuver, to apply and reduce power, the separation needed between planes in the pattern, the weather characteristics, any hazards, etc. That’s a big box of tools and knowledge not included in the bills.


In response to considerable public outcry in the San Francisco area and some heavy pressure from their Congressional delegation (Reps. Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough), the FAA has issued a three phase plan.

FAA initiative to address NextGen noise concerns:

Phase 1: The FAA will continue to analyze and conduct feasibility studies on flight procedures, including speed and altitude adjustments and the possibility of moving existing waypoints.

Phase 2: The FAA will consider modifications that are feasible based on initial analyses. The agency will conduct formal environmental safety reviews and seek feedback from community members and stakeholders.

Phase 3: The FAA plans to implement new procedures and follow up with further changes as needed.

Initiative is critical in designing anything and that truism applies to airspace design. Note that the first one and a half steps are performed by the FAA. That means that an internal crew will spend time rethinking the original plan. There is no assurance that the sensitivities expressed by the community will be part of this second iteration.

After that study and modifications are done, they offer the community to provide “feedback” to their new, improved FAA solution. The prospects, that an organization which has been called “hidebound,” will now be open to significant changes on an arcane subject from communities without the necessary tools ARE SLIM.

The Chicago story shows the value of technical knowledge and skills. There the community hired experts (disclosure: they selected JDA Aviation Technology Solutions) to take the initiative. Their report proposed 20 specific changes which would improve the noise experienced in the surrounding neighborhoods. The team included a recognized expert in noise measurement, a professor whose research is directed to the engineering and science and three former FAA ATC managers who know the Chicago airspace. Here are some examples of possible solutions which meet the City’s and FAA’s requirements, yet are neighborhood friendly:

→ The use of at least two runways for departing flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. to help spread out jet noise, regardless of the number of flights scheduled, and developing a more aggressive “fly quiet” program during overnight hours.

→ Another priority in the analysis is to continue using O’Hare’s diagonal runways, which currently are being lightly utilized because five out of six planned east-west parallel runways have been opened since 2008. O’Hare officials plan to demolish two of the airport’s four diagonals.

→ The use of at least two runways for departing flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. to help spread out jet noise, regardless of the number of flights scheduled, and developing a more aggressive “fly quiet” program during overnight hours.

→ Requiring the use of at least two runways for departing flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. to help spread out jet noise, regardless of the number of flights scheduled.

→ Developing a more aggressive “fly quiet” program during overnight hours.

→ Continue using O’Hare’s diagonal runways, which currently are being lightly utilized.

→ Leave a third runway open during Fly Quiet hours, including at least one diagonal runway, to disperse airport noise effects and to reduce flying distances over communities.

→ FAA should encourage operational decision-making personnel to avoid terminating Fly Quiet departure procedures prematurely.

→ CDA should continue encouraging ATC compliance with recommended procedures, through on-going recurrent controller education efforts, timely compliance reporting and follow-up activity.

→ Continuous Descent Approach should be developed by the FAA for each arrival runway and used during Fly Quiet hours.

→ CDA should conduct a review of Noise Abatement Departure Procedures (NADPs), revise as appropriate, coordinate with users and advertise the NADP policy within the Fly Quiet Program Manual.

→ The SOC, CDA and FAA coordinate to assess departure flight paths from ORD’s newest runways and preferred runway usage, to determine the best runway configurations and departure headings for noise abatement and include these within the Fly Quiet Program.

→ All of the current recommended departure headings should be assessed to determine whether they are actually achieving the goal of directing flights over less-populated areas and revised as required to minimize population impacted by noise on a rotating basis every evening. The CDA should consider a computer driven model to best determine how to distribute flights over the region on an objective basis to minimize the impact on any particular community. Operations should be evenly disbursed over the entire population.

The objective, set by the communities, was to work collaboratively with FAA, the City of Chicago Aviation Authority and major users of the airport to seek potential noise reduction strategies that are practical to implement, have no significant impact on operational efficiency, and most importantly have no effect on safety.

With the right tools, the community took the initiative, produced realistic alternatives and maintained credibility by clearly linking their proposed actions to the three critical goals. Yes, it is quite possible that the FAA and/or Chicago will not accept this path, but past statements indicated receptivity.

The processes being considered by Congress and being offered by the FAA are promising, but without the right tools, reconsideration may not result in real changes. Carpe Diem is an appropriate tactic; waiting for another FAA solution may not.


ARTICLE: Amendment Addressing Noisy Phoenix Flight Paths Advances in U.S. Senate

ARTICLE: FAA offers steps to reduce NextGen plane noise

ARTICLE: Study: Chicago, FAA underestimated impact of O’Hare expansion

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