FAA/ATC Need to Explain: Why So Low on the Long Island ‘Arc of Doom’?

It makes no sense.

When winds are southwest and favor landing on Runways 22, the arrivals into Kennedy International Airport [KJFK] routinely follow a long, sweeping left-turn arc. In the daytime, hundreds of thousands of residents in the wall-to-wall residential communities on the west end of Long Island endure a nearly constant stream, one flight after another.

The normal Arc of Doom starts near Massapequa,  then passes over Levittown, Old Westbury and Roslyn Heights to line up on a long final to the runways. When the number of arrivals builds up, the arc balloons even further toward the east and north; the noise inundation then includes West Babylon, Woodbury and East Norwich … and sometimes even further out.

KJFK.20151016scp.. 'Arc of Doom' to RYs 22, 6m final marked (bing map)

Red arc approximates the normal daily arrival flow. Orange arc approximates the expanded arc during heavier arrival flows. (click on image to view map at Bing.com)

What makes these routes particularly impactful, though, are the low altitudes. The approach controllers routinely level off these arrivals at 2,000 feet altitude, while still 12-miles or more from the runway end. At a distance of 12-miles out, today’s commercial passenger jets are optimally at a 4,000 foot altitude, and are then able to make a steady descent rate on final averaging roughly 300-feet per mile.

Optimally, every arrival should be passing through 2,000 feet altitude when around a 6-mile final. In fact, every mile flown by an arrival level at 2,000 feet translates to lots more noise-impact and lots more fuel wasted. And on top of that, the safety margin is compromised; an arrival left high has more options should they need to land immediately, but an arrival forced too low too soon may have to select the best neighborhood to crash into.

Here are two screen-captures from FlightRadar24, showing recent KJFK arrivals. These examples were carefully chosen to present arrivals without any other arrivals to contend with. In other words, ATC had the perfect conditions to shorten the landing approach as much as possible (no conga lines, no S-turns, no need for a report to issue visual separation). The sky at midnight was clear, and a few clouds formed at 12,000 feet by 4:30AM. Both examples also happen to be during the hours when most residents want/need to be deep into their overnight sleep.

KJFK.20151016at0031.. AAL180 ARR RY 22 from KLAX, APCH map with data added (FlightRadar24)

AAL180 from LAX, arriving alone at 12:31AM. The previous arrival was at 12:12; the next arrival landed at 12:35. Note the flight levels out at 2,000 AGL at nearly 13NM prior to the runway … in the middle of the night.

KJFK.20151016at0431.. JBU72 ARR RY 22 from KSLC, APCH map with data added (FlightRadar24)

JBU72 from SLC, arriving alone at 4:31AM. The previous arrival was at 4:15AM. Note the flight levels out at 2,000 AGL at approximately 15NM prior to the runway.

So, the question for FAA and the controllers working at the New York TRACON is this:

…why must you push JFK Runway 22 arrivals so low (2,000 feet) and so early on the approach,  causing so much noise impact on so many people below?

It makes no sense.