The FAA has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact/ Record of Decision for the Southern California Metroplex project.
The decision enables the agency to move forward with the project, which will replace dozens of existing conventional air traffic control procedures with new satellite-based procedures.
Prior to making the decision, the FAA conducted environmental reviews and held approximately 90 public meetings and briefings. The agency also evaluated and responded to thousands of public comments, and made a number of changes in response to public input, officials noted.
The FAA plans to begin working immediately toward phasing in use of the procedures, starting in November 2016 and continuing through April 2017. Before publishing the procedures, the agency will conduct additional public outreach to further inform people about the changes.
The Southern California Metroplex project includes 99 new satellite-based procedures, which are a key component of the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The new procedures consist of 41 departures, 37 arrivals and 21 approach procedures that guide aircraft down until they’re very close to their destination airports.
The project also expands the number of entry and exit points into and out of the Southern California airspace, which is like creating more on- and off-ramps in the sky, FAA officials explain.
It encompasses most of Southern California and includes six major airports and 15 satellite airports.
Modernization is needed because many of the current air traffic procedures in Southern California are decades old, according to FAA officials. While they are all safe, some are inefficient because they rely on ground-based navigation aids, which limit available flight paths.
Some procedures are not fully optimized, meaning they are longer than necessary, or require inefficient climbs and descents, or converge and occupy the same airspace. As a result, air traffic controllers issue a series of instructions to pilots to vector aircraft onto more direct routes and to keep aircraft safely separated from each other. Vectoring, in turn, results in irregular and less predictable flight paths and increases pilot-controller communications and workload.
Satellite-based procedures, by contrast, allow for more optimized routing with fixed routes, altitudes and speeds. Their precise flight tracks help keep routes automatically separated. This in turn reduces the need for vectoring and reduces controller-pilot communications, FAA officials said.
The FAA’s environmental analysis for the project calculated noise at more than 330,000 locations throughout the study area. It showed the proposed action would not result in any significant or reportable noise increases under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The FAA held 11 public workshops on the project after releasing the Draft Environmental Assessment in June 2015. Agency officials conducted approximately 79 additional briefings for stakeholders, including community groups, tribes, airport officials and local, state and federal officials.
Additionally, following a 120-day public comment period, the FAA evaluated and responded to more than 4,000 comments before making a final decision on the project. In response to comments received, the agency developed one new arrival procedure and made changes to six other proposed procedures.
When the Southern California Metroplex procedures are implemented, some people might see aircraft where they did not previously fly. This is because some air route changes will occur, and because satellite-based procedures create more concentrated flight paths than conventional procedures.
Some people will experience slight noise decreases, some will see no changes, and some will experience small noise increases, FAA officials noted.
Some flight track dispersion will continue to occur after the new procedures are implemented because the Metroplex project includes a number of existing procedures. Also, air traffic controllers will need to occasionally vector aircraft for safety or efficiency reasons or to reroute them around weather systems.
The Finding of No Significant Impact/ Record of Decision, as well as the Final Environmental Assessment, are available on the Southern California Metroplex website. The website’s Google Earth feature allows people to view the projected flight paths and noise changes associated with the project.