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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019 11 months ago

Federal Aviation Administration hosts workshop in Winter Park about air traffic

The input workshop gave residents a chance to voice concerns about air traffic, noise and other issues regarding planes.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration heard from local residents and answered questions about everything airplane related at an air traffic pattern community input workshop Thursday, April 18, at the Winter Park Community Center.

Air traffic staff members were available to speak with residents about the flow of planes over the Orlando area — as well as some of the noise that passes overhead. It was one of a series of workshops throughout the state that gathered feedback from residents leading up to the future implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) — the ongoing transformation of air traffic control technology and procedures in the United States. 

NextGen is moving the National Airspace System from ground-based radar to satellite-based navigation, from voice to digital communication, and to a fully integrated information management system. That all results in more accurate flight paths — and precise descents and takeoffs.

Within that initiative, the South-Central Florida Metroplex project will focus on the four major international airports in Florida: Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Orlando International Airport and Tampa International Airport.

“We’re updating the airspace above Orlando — as well as Tampa, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale — and implementing satellite-based procedures,” Michael O’Harra, Regional Administrator for the FAA Southern Region, said.

“All of that translates to reduced delays and increased predictability for the flying public. But at the same time, we’re aware of noise mitigation agreements that are in place and this project respects those. We’re also trying to largely overfly where existing routes are and avoid impacts to residential areas. … We want the public to understand the project. Opportunities like tonight allow them to look at various arrival and departure boards in and around the Orlando area and talk to air traffic controllers that do this as their profession.” 

Potential benefits of NextGen include creating more direct routes, decreasing congestion at airports and in the air, enhancing safety and efficiency in the air, and offering environmental benefits by reducing the burning of fuel and carbon emissions.

“This is one of 11 projects like this around the country — we finished seven of them,” O’Harra said. “In Houston, where we implemented a similar process, we saw a reduction of 650,000 track miles flown by airplanes on an annual basis. That translates into a reduction of 31,000 metric tons (of carbon emissions). … The more efficiently planes are flying, the less fuel they’re burning.” 



Winter Park resident Vince Chiarello came to the meeting to learn more about the effects of NextGen — and to voice concerns about late-night flights. Chiarello said he understands that airlines need to make money and Orlando is a popular destination, but that there should also be some type of regulations preventing flights between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.

“I know that having come from the D.C. area a couple years back, I’m used to having airplanes come up the Potomac River for years and what not — there was a reasonable curfew though,” Chiarello said. “We weren’t having planes come and go over your house at 2,000 feet at 3 and 4 in the morning — that’s a significant difference I see here. Because everyone wants to see the mouse, they’re coming here 24/7.”

“At some point, somebody has to say, ‘Enough,’” he said. “We’re all in favor of reasonable growth and people coming to Orlando, but there’s no reason to have a super highway of jetliners flying over the same neighborhood literally all night long. That’s just unconscionable.”

O’Harra said the FAA is aware of noise impacts and would mitigate the noise if the impact was deemed significant enough.

“If somebody lives three miles from Orlando International Airport on the center line of the runway, in reality they’re probably going to continue to have planes over their house,” O’Harra said. “We’re not taking away traffic with this project. If you live, say, north of the airport, you’re probably sill going to hear noise.”

However, the new navigation technology could alleviate some impacts. Thanks to the satellite navigation, planes potentially could approach the runway about 100 miles out with reduced power — and noise, O’Harra said. Descending on a consistent diagonal pattern could reduce the need to fire the engines and level off the plane, as well.

O’Harra said the FAA will analyze the input from the workshop before starting an environmental study. Another series of workshops is set for next summer, where the FAA will share refined procedures and results from the analysis.

The new procedures are expected to be implemented by 2021, O’Harra said.

Tim Freed is the Managing Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida....

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