MAC still awaiting decision on new flight paths

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) wants at least two years to pass before the Federal Aviation Administration reinitiates a discussion about overhauling the flight paths over Southwest Minneapolis.

The MAC Executive Director Jeff Hamiel visited Washington, D.C. early this year, where he reiterated that the MAC wants partial implementation of RNAV (Area Navigation) to the South and Southeast of the airport, while staff study the impact of the changes.

“Once we have the opportunity to do that, and once the community understands the facts, I think we will have a much more logical and cooperative conversation,” Hamiel said.

The FAA is expected to make a decision on partial implementation in the coming weeks. It is implementing “NextGen,” the next generation of aviation that shifts to satellite-based and digital technologies. The shift is designed to improve safety, operational efficiency, congestion and reliability. RNAV would concentrate air traffic into a handful of heavily-used flight paths.

“They are basically mandated to do so at the direction of the U.S. Congress,” Hamiel said.

The FAA has considered funneling departures into fewer flight paths over targeted locations like the Minnesota River Valley and Crosstown. As currently proposed, new flight paths would also cross Southwest Minneapolis over a route south of 50th Street and over Lake of the Isles. Air traffic managers designed routes 18 degrees apart over Southwest, because they simply couldn’t send all of the planes over Crosstown and maintain its capacity.

The plan generated surprise and pushback last winter from residents in neighborhoods like Kenny and Fulton, who worried about the impact of flights concentrated over the same blocks each day.

Hamiel said residents living near airports around the country are asking the same questions about RNAV, particularly in Seattle and greater New York.

The MAC isn’t the only agency preparing for a future debate. The new MSP FairSkies Coalition, representing neighborhoods in Minneapolis and Edina, has a website up and running at mspfairskies.com. It links to a Facebook page and a 13-minute overview video. Local neighborhoods are donating about $150 apiece to help pay for the website and admin costs.

“The whole idea is to have a resource for neighborhood boards and residents to go and educate themselves, contact their representatives, and become more educated about what’s going on with changes at the airport,” said Bryan Simmons of the coalition.

Airport expansion planning

In a separate initiative, the MAC is finishing up an environmental assessment of its long-range plans. Airport staff are planning for additional gates, parking, roadway improvements and terminal space, accommodating a forecasted 40 percent growth in aircraft operations by 2030.

The FAA decided in early March that airport plans would have nosignificant impact on the environment.

“The airport is going to grow, regardless of gates,” Hamiel said. “Aircraft are still going to come, they will just be more congested.”

The MAC is asking the FAA to allow it to continue its current noise mitigation plan, which includes an annual noise analysis.

“We don’t know exactly where the [noise] contour will move,” Hamiel said.

The MAC is already more aggressive on noise mitigation than anywhere else in the country, Hamiel said, aiding14,500 homes at an average cost of $30,000 apiece.

“The noise is not anywhere near what it was 20 years ago,” he said. “No one comes close to what we’ve done.”

 

This article was revised to clarify that the FAA is not currently evaluating RNAV to the North and Northwest of the airport.