Highway in the sky: What is the VOR MON?
Before the Trump administration moves to overhaul the airspace above South Florida, concentrating flight paths and likely causing noise increases in neighborhoods that typically do not feel such saturated jet traffic, the Federal Aviation Administration says it wants to hear from you.
Through a series of public forums to be held in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in the next two weeks, aviation officials plan to hear concerns from residents of the soon-to-be-affected areas before conducting a legally required environmental and noise pollution study to ensure that any noise increases felt on the ground are within the legal “significant” threshold the FAA must abide by before changing airspace procedures.
In Miami-Dade County, where the FAA will host four workshops in the next two months, cities in Northeast Miami-Dade down to Doral will likely be impacted, according to an analysis of an FAA presentation on the flight-path changes.
Based on the FAA presentation, which was delivered before the Miami International Airport Noise Abatement Advisory Committee in 2018, the following cities are projected to fall under or near the newly proposed flight corridor: Doral, Miami Springs, West Miami, Sweetwater, North Miami and North Miami Beach. Nearby cities, like Miami Beach or Bay Harbor, may be affected as well, but the FAA has not publicly disclosed what areas would be impacted or what the potential impacts are.
The first meetings will be in in Doral on April 29 and in North Miami Beach on April 30. In Broward County, the FAA will hold forums in Hollywood and Davie from Monday to Thursday.
But not everyone got the memo.
“Unfortunately they haven’t notified me of their workshops, so they must not be looking too hard for community input,” said North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin, who was unaware of the proposed flight-path changes.
West Miami Mayor Rhonda Rodriguez told the Miami Herald she, too, was unaware that her city was located near the new flight corridors. Representatives of the other affected cities did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Herald in December 2018 that it was still too early to determine what impacts the FAA plan would have in the county.
Galvin said despite the FAA’s best efforts at arguing otherwise, noise-level increases are almost certain to result from the new concentrated paths.
“Obviously residents are going to hear more noise because flights will be taking off and turning directly over the city, so there will be noise impact,” he said. “That will be of concern to the residents.”
To Galvin’s point, questions about increased noise pollution will likely be top of mind during the public meetings, but FAA officials will not be able to specifically address those issues without the environmental study completed.
“You know, we don’t have all the data that says here are all the impacts and here are all the noise affects, whether we think they’re significant or not,” said Michael O’Harra, a regional administrator for the FAA Southern Region, in an interview. “We don’t have that information until we begin the official environmental process.”
The flight-path changes are part of the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, the nationwide switch to satellite-based technology that officials say will save fuel and improve pilot-to-airport communication, making flying safer, more efficient and more environmentally responsible.
In Houston, for example, the FAA estimates a reduction of 650,000 miles per year, or 31,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. In Cleveland and Detroit, the aviation agency documented close to 40-percent reductions in flight delays compared to last year.
“We’re mindful of existing noise agreements... [and] we’re inviting public feedback early and then again later in the project,” O’Harra said, “but we’re certainly also excited about some efficiency gains and reducing delays and leaving a better environmental footprint as we take advantage of these capabilities.”
The FAA plans to conduct its environmental study this summer and host another round of workshops before officially rolling out NextGen by 2021 in Florida. The changes will affect airspace across the state, and workshops are also scheduled for Orlando, Tampa and Palm Beach County.
After identifying 11 major airspaces in the United States, called metroplexes, the FAA has so far completed seven NextGen projects across the country. In the South-Central Florida Metroplex, NextGen would impact 21 airports — nine of them (including executive airports) in South Florida.
James Arrighi, the Metroplex program manager for the FAA Air Traffic Organization, said in an interview that aviation officials have been successful in installing new flight paths in other major U.S. regions. If any significant noise-level increases are discovered in the environmental report, Arrighi said, the FAA will modify its plans until that problem is resolved. He did not elaborate on what constitutes a significant noise increase, instead referring questions to environmental experts at the FAA.
“It is dependent upon the distance from the airport. It is a model, a number,” Arrighi said. “Our environmental review will be based upon some pretty robust modeling, so those discussions can be had at the workshop with our environmental specialist.”
“I cannot quote the numbers but it does vary upon distance from the airport, the amount of change that would be considered to be significant, and the type of area,” he added.
The FAA has been met with backlash and legal action in Arizona, Maryland and California, where NextGen flight paths have been challenged.
In Maryland, the state’s attorney general filed a petition in June with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging new flight paths at Reagan National Airport and petitioned the FAA to review changes made to those at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
In 2017, a three-judge appeals panel in the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of Phoenix residents, ordering the FAA to revise flight paths at Sky Harbor International Airport, according to The Washington Post.
In January, the FAA reached a tentative settlement to adjust flights out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, after being sued by the governments of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Orange County, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Galvin, the North Miami councilman, said the FAA’s flight paths won’t effect affluent communities of Miami-Dade County, like Downtown Miami, for fear of well-funded lawsuits. Low-income residents will suffer because their municipal governments may feel filing a lawsuit would be a waste of money, he said.
“The unfortunate thing is that by concentrating their patterns over cities that don’t have the resources to fight in court, it’s the path of least resistance,” Galvin said. “They’re probably aiming to come over North Miami [instead of] downtown because they don’t want to deal with the taller buildings that are supporting downtown and the more affluent people that live there. We see it time and again.”
Brian Gilderman, a member of the Miami International Airport Noise Abatement Advisory Committee, said he was unclear what qualifies as “significant” noise increases, but that anyone near the new flight paths — including Miami Beach — would feel the impact.
As the Miami Beach representative on the committee, Gilderman said he and MIA requested a workshop in Miami Beach but “they did not do it.” He also criticized the FAA’s apparent failure to notify cities about the NextGen plan or the workshops.
“If you live under or near the new flight paths, you’re going to notice a significant increase in jet noise,” he said.
If you go
FAA NextGen workshops in Broward County (All meetings are from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.):
April 22: Old Davie School, 6650 Griffin Rd., Davie
April 23: Mangrove Hall, 751 Sheridan St., Hollywood
April 24: Signature Grand, 6900 State Road 84, Davie
April 25: David Posnack JCC, 5850 S. Pine Island Rd., Davie
FAA NextGen workshops in Miami-Dade County (All meetings are from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.):
April 29: Police Substation, 3719 NW 97th Ave., Doral
April 30: Florida International University Wolfe University Center Rooms 221 and 223, 3000 NE 151st St., North Miami Beach
May 1: Marriott Miami Airport, 1201 NW LeJeune Road, Miami
May 2: Glenn Curtiss Mansion, 500 Deer Run, Miami Springs