A Closer Look at How FAA is ‘Tone-Deaf’ on NextGen Noise Impacts

It has now been more than seven months since FAA switched on the NextGen routings in the Phoenix area. Noise complaints skyrocketed immediately on September 18th, and there has been an enormous expenditure in special meetings of the City Council, committees and FAA workgroups to ‘study’ the problem, correspondence to/from FAA, etc. Lots of time and money and talk, but NO RELIEF has yet happened.

So, it is not surprising to see that Phoenix officials are extremely upset about the latest letter from FAA’s Regional Administrator, Glenn Martin, in which FAA not only refuses to correct the problem they created but ALSO insists Phoenix has not been participating in the problem-solving process. This really is an astonishing insensitivity by FAA. They did no environmental analysis, imposed hugely impactful routing changes, insist the city needs to fix their own problem … and now FAA has the audacity to claim the city has failed to “…offer its own ideas or suggestions for the FAA to consider.” Wow, FAA has grown into such a lovable kid …

In the wake of Mr. Martin’s 4/14/2015 letter, airport officials produced a new set of images, presenting radar data that precisely shows how NextGen adversely impacts the residents in the Phoenix area. This set of images also shows the general failure of NextGen. The same revised flight patterns are being applied at other airports all around the country, and with the same result: NextGen implementation is focusing noise impacts, thus diminishing quality of life for local residents. Not just at Phoenix [KPHX], but also at Charlotte [KCLT], Seattle [KSEA], Minneapolis [KMSP], Chicago [KORD], Boston [KBOS] … and the list goes on.

A Sample: How NextGen is Failing in Phoenix

Here is a cropped portion from the latest images, along with some analysis by aiReform.com, showing how NextGen is impacting the people of Phoenix:

20150418cpy.. KPHX Arrivals N side (changes due to NextGen)

Northside Arrivals to KPHX, in an East flow. Blue tracks are NextGen; purple tracks are pre-NextGen. The thick blue line is the downwind leg, and the KPHX runways are approx. 2-miles south of this cropped map.

In the image above, the pair of orange rectangles illustrates arrival route concentration. The tall orange rectangle shows the broad dispersal of pre-NextGen arrival flight paths; the short orange rectangle shows how nearly all of those flights are now pinched into a thin westbound downwind leg, midway between Indian School Road and Northern Avenue. The green rectangle shows the remaining duty of the radar controller: to issue approach clearances (and thus initiate the left base turns off the westbound downwind leg), primarily between N 45th Avenue and N 91st Avenue.

Click here to see a larger analysis with more cropped images. These look at the area northwest of KPHX (for west flow departures and east flow arrivals), and at the area southwest of KPHX (for west flow departures and east flow arrivals).

So, why is NextGen failing?

Well, these new procedures have been implemented without meaningful environmental review. Lacking this review, FAA ‘collaborated’ with a biased set of ‘partners’ (the airlines and the controllers union) to implement five design elements:

  1. routes (for both arrivals and departures) are precisely focused into narrow corridors; thus, the impact that used to be dispersed over a broad area now generates a steady and repetitive stream that can be continuous for hours at a time.
  2. overall, the routes have been proceduralized in a way that minimizes ATC duties. Controllers continue to earn exceptionally high federal salaries (and pensions), but they spend an increasing amount of their job just watching and not controlling.
  3. departure turns have been tightened and are closer to the airport. A key NextGen goal (by FAA, the airlines, and the controllers’ union) was to increase departure capacity by implementing departure procedures with course divergence immediately after takeoff. This accommodates profitable ‘banking’ of flight schedules by the airlines.
  4. arrivals have been proceduralized so as to tightly fit the arrival stream under the departure stream at key design locations. An adverse consequence is that residents under these crossing locations endure intense aircraft noise all day long. The main ATC duty is reduced to calling the turn from the downwind leg.
  5. FAA and other ‘stakeholders’ are careful to not discuss the fact that controllers are adjusting arrivals upstream, with speed control and short delay vectors, to set up these proceduralized arrival streams. If the added fuel expenditures of these ATC actions were discussed, they would reveal that FAA is overselling NextGen to be far more ‘green’ than it really is.

The primary beneficiary of these five design elements are the airlines; they see very slightly shortened routes and thus fuel savings, reaping millions in profits (at the environmental expense of local residents). A secondary beneficiary is the air traffic controllers, who see immense job simplification. FAA is a beneficiary, too, in that they are serving the airlines (while ignoring their more important role of serving the larger Public).

The main problem with all of this is that FAA is leading the process in a vacuum. They are working with biased ‘stakeholders’ (the airlines and the controllers union) to produce changes that completely ignore the Public.

See also: