Change in flight paths could result in less noise, fuel burned

Change in flight paths could result in less noise, fuel burned
Residents in South Vista began noticing more air traffic noise involving McClellan-Palomar Airport in 2013, when the FAA implemented NextGen technology that triggers flight pattern changes and lower altitudes. File photo by Steve Puterski

SOLANA BEACH — Dozens of residents from San Diego County converged at an elementary school last week for an open house regarding Southern California flight paths hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA released its findings for its Southern California Metroplex Project, also known as NextGen, which is nearly five years in the making and expected to improve safety and efficiency based on satellite navigation, according to Public Affairs Manager Ian Gregor.

Last week’s presentation covered airports at Camp Pendleton, Carlsbad and San Diego County, among others. Much of Carlsbad’s new routes will commence March 2 and several others will come online April 27.

However, numerous Carlsbad residents came to the presentation to research the ongoing issues with Palomar-McClellan Airport and its possible expansion.

San Diego County, which oversees the airport, did not have any input into the FAA’s findings and no representatives from the county were present last week.

According to Shawn Kozica, an air traffic controller with the FAA, the report does not have any impact on possible extension or expansion in Carlsbad. Instead, the new data provides more streamlined service for aircraft on a north and northwest flight path just west of Camp Pendleton.

He said the inbound landing routes will remain the same from the base, but change over the Pacific Ocean as aircraft will cross over Catalina Island and turn north missing the greater Los Angeles area over land.

Residents throughout San Diego County appeared at a Federal Aviation Administration regarding its Southern California Metroplex Project last week in Solana Beach. Photo by Steve Puterski

Residents throughout San Diego County appeared at a Federal Aviation Administration regarding its Southern California Metroplex Project last week in Solana Beach. Photo by Steve Puterski

Gregor, meanwhile, said the new satellite technology is more reliable than its predecessor. In short, it is like an upgrade from analog to digital.

“Conventional air routes are built on ground-based navigation aids, such as beacons,” he added. “These navigation aids are physically planted in the ground, which limits available flight paths. Satellite technology, by contrast, allows us to build more direct routes as well as routes that are automatically separated from one another. This creates a more efficient system and reduces pilot-controller communications.”

The Southern California project is one of 14 the FAA is implementing throughout the country.

However, the project has come under scrutiny and at least two federal lawsuits have been filed. The city of Phoenix filed suit in 2015, according to USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times reported in October 2016 of a lawsuit filed by Culver City and Newport Beach.

Regardless, Gregor said the FAA research allows for better efficiency.

He said satellite technology creates efficient climbs and descents without the level-offs associated with conventional routes. In other words, a staircase where a plane climbs, levels, climbs and levels until it reaches its cruising altitude.

On the arrival side, Gregor continued, the new technology calls for descents in which aircraft essentially glide down on idle or near-idle power to their final approaches. “Because engines aren’t spooling up and air brakes aren’t being deployed, the plane makes less noise,” he explained. “And gliding down on idle power means less fuel is burned, which in turn means fewer CO2 (carbon dioxide) is being released into the environment.”

However, some Carlsbad residents were wary of the new regulations and how it would affect the ongoing battle between residents, the city and county over plans to extend, or expand, depending on the point of view, the runway in Carlsbad.

“The FAA keeps saying they have solved the problem and they never have,” said Carlsbad resident Graham Thomley. “They are turning Carlsbad into John Wayne Airport.”

Throughout the SoCal Metroplex project area, the vast majority of new routes will have aircraft flying within the areas where they previously flew.

“During our environmental analysis for this project, we modeled noise at about 300,000 locations throughout Southern California,” Gregor said. “Our modeling found that some areas will experience slight noise decreases, some will experience slight noise increases, and some will experience no changes.”

The Metroplex website has Google Earth features to allow residents to look up projected noise right down to the neighborhood level, as well as current and future flight tracks.

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