Airline passengers could see fewer flight delays and shorter travel times as federal regulators change how they handle planes in Florida’s congested airways.
The plans are a mixed blessing, though, for people on the ground. Airplane noise might affect fewer neighborhoods, but the disturbances could increase for people under revamped flight paths.
The changes represent the Federal Aviation Administration’s effort to bring the country’s airways into the 21st century, relying on satellite-based technology instead of ground radar to control flights.
Here’s what you need to know about the changes.
What airports are involved?
The initiative, called the South-Central Florida Metroplex project, involves 21 airports: nine in South Florida and 12 in Central Florida. It includes four major airport hubs – Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa – more than in any other state. Palm Beach International and Melbourne International are also included.
How does the system work?
The satellite-based system allows air traffic controllers to know where planes are at all times, not just their locations when they come across as blips every few seconds on radar screens. Knowing precise locations will allow planes to fly closer together with a lower risk of collision, officials said.
The satellite system also can direct planes on the straightest paths to their destinations – and guide them around bad weather that may arise. With radar, planes are flying zig-zag routes as they home in on one radar tower after another along the way.
Air traffic controllers still would have the ability to alter flight paths to avoid hazardous weather, for safety reasons or for operational needs, such as when one of an airport’s runways is closed.
Why will it be better?
The changes will be the equivalent of adding lanes to a highway, allowing air traffic to flow more smoothly while straightening out routes to shorten trips, said Michael O’Harra, the FAA’s regional administrator.
Since use of the satellite technology was implemented in Detroit in September, that city’s airport has seen a 36 percent reduction in the number of flight delays and a 58 percent drop in the total time of the delays, said Jim Arrighi, the FAA’s project manager nationwide for the metroplex initiatives.
The FAA also is trumpeting environmental benefits, with the time savings also reducing the amount of fuel burned and the amount of carbon emissions. For pilots and air traffic controllers, it reduces complexity and communications of takeoff and landings.
But won’t it create more jet noise?
Many communities already deal with airplane noise. The FAA says it tries to avoid low-altitude flights over residential areas as much as possible, but not everyone believes that.
In the Lauderdale Isles neighborhood northwest of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, residents want to see flights taking off to the west travel farther out before turning north, so as to avoid their homes. But those desires may be at odds with making flights more efficient and allowing northbound planes to take a more direct path to their destinations.
The FAA’s initial proposal would still have some Fort Lauderdale planes taking off to the west bank to the north shortly after take-off, sending them over or near Lauderdale Isles. Because of the narrower corridor, it could make the noise even worse for some neighborhoods.
That leaves Richard Cahoon of Lauderdale Isles skeptical about the metroplex plan. “I’m very suspicious of it given what I’ve heard, all the complaints that are rolling out across the country about Metroplex.
What about when planes land?
Landings should be quieter. Planes will be able to glide to a landing at a very low idle because their approach and place in line can be determined while they are still hundreds of miles away.
In the past, planes have descended in a stair-step fashion: a rapid descent followed by leveling off and acceleration, then another rapid descent and leveling off and acceleration. The acceleration burns more fuel and increases the noise.
Are the changes in place at other airports?
The FAA has completed similar regional projects in Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., Houston, North Texas, Northern California and Southern California. Changes are continuing in the Cleveland-Detroit region. Work has also been completed at many individual airports. Metroplex projects are now in the design phase in Florida, Denver and Las Vegas.
What happened in those places?
Many communities where the changes have been implemented have complained that they’re experiencing greater noise – or experiencing loud noise for the first time. That’s the situation at Baltimore’s airport, which led Maryland to challenge the FAA in court. Other challenges have been brought in California and Arizona.
Why the push to modernize?
Air traffic procedures, particularly in Florida, have not been updated for years. While federal officials say the current procedures are safe, they aren’t as efficient as they could be in handling the large volume of flights in the region. Flights currently don’t take advantage of the latest technological advances.
“We’re going from days when we used paper maps to get across the country to GPS,” O’Harra said.
What does the Fort Lauderdale airport think about it?
Fort Lauderdale airport officials say the flight paths for planes when they are below 6,000 feet should not change significantly, but leaders are “concerned about the potential concentration of aircraft overflights” in the county. They have requested that the FAA develop additional procedures to minimize the effects.
When will the changes go into effect?
Officials expect to be working on the environmental and noise aspects of the plans for at least the next year. The system could be ready to be put in place sometime in 2021.
Where can the public find out more?
The FAA is holding a series of workshops across the state to receive comments from the public. Participants will get a chance to see the proposed paths at airports in their region and can voice any concerns.
Four meetings will be held April 15-18 in the Orlando area, another in West Palm Beach on April 18, four in the Fort Lauderdale area April 22-25, and four each in the Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg areas April 29-May 2.
Copyright © 2019 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Larry Barszewski. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.