FAA METRO AIRSPACE REDESIGN REVIEW
New Jersey citizens can expect a lot more noise and not much benefit if recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
airspace redesign proposals get implemented. On December 20, 2005, the FAA issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement
(DEIS) for redesigning the airspace for the NY/NJ/Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. The main goals are to increase aviation
capacity and reduce delays. The capacity improvements achievable are surprisingly small because the airport runways
themselves are a major limiter, and because previous airspace redesign efforts have already reaped the "low hanging fruit."
Two more limited proposals offer little or no capacity improvement, and the most ambitious set of changes, which would be
very expensive and take years to implement, offer, at best, mid single digit percent improvements. To get even these small
improvements requires optimistic operating assumptions and the dropping of locally highly valued noise abatement
The projected noise impacts are very high. The most ambitious plan would cause more than a three-fold (5 decibel) noise
increase to some 300,000 residents over the tri-state area. The last major FAA airspace redesign, the 1987 Expanded East
Coast Plan (EECP) caused major noise problems within New Jersey and a bitter decade-long battle with the FAA over repairs.
The new FAA alternatives project four to seven times greater noise impact than the EECP, which is likely to cause an
overwhelming public outcry. Especially onerous is the proposed dropping of noise abatement restrictions at Newark Liberty
International Airport (EWR), which would profoundly affect the nearby communities and particularly minorities.
The public is likely to experience little change other than the increased noise pollution. Projected capacity improvements
are small and speculative. Previous FAA projects have proposed methods that looked attractive on paper, but proved
unworkable in practice. Furthermore, small capacity improvements are rapidly taken advantage of by the carriers to schedule
additional flights during peak periods, so reduction in aviation delays is unlikely. In 1998, when seeking support for the
redesign, the FAA promoted noise reduction as a benefit. It is now disappointing to see such one-sided pursuit of capacity
at the expense of noise. New Jersey Governor Corzine and Senators Lautenberg and Menendez have already vehemently rejected
the FAA proposals. Senator Lautenberg's rejection is notable, since he helped initiate the redesign in 1998 because he was
promised by the FAA administrator that it would yield noise and capacity benefits.
The FAA will begin public meetings in February and the DEIS will be open for public comment thru June 1, 2006. Members of
the public are urged to attend the public meetings and enter their comments. A reference to the meeting schedule is included
at the end of this document.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the NY/NJ/Philadelphia Metro Airspace Redesign explores five alternatives.
- No Action: Make no changes; this is the baseline.
- Modifications to Existing Airspace: Make limited changes.
- Ocean Routing: Proposed by the New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise (NJCAAN) to reduce noise impacts by routing aircraft over water.
- Integrated Airspace: More extensive changes than (2) This is explored in two variants.
- Integrated Airspace (IA): Airspace changes alone
- Integrated Airspace with Integrated Control Center (IA+ICC): More extensive changes than (4a) plus the consolidation
of FAA terminal and en-route operational facilities into a new Integrated Contol Center (ICC). This is the alternative most
heavily promoted in the DEIS.
Alternatives (2), (4a) and (4b) include a proposed "fanning" of south flow EWR departures, which would discard noise
abatement procedures and use new departure headings. These would move aircraft flight paths away from the industrialized
areas and waterways south of EWR to over-fly heavily populated residential areas of Elizabeth and adjacent communities.
This greatly raises noise impacts, with disproportionate impact to minorities.
Alternatives (2), (4a) and (4b) are the only ones promoted in the DEIS, but the benefits of these are mixed and weak, as
seen in Table 1, and also dependent on optimistic assumptions that may not be realized. The ocean routing alternative is
favorable from an environmental standpoint, reducing noise for a net 112,000 people but is deprecated because of claimed
reduced EWR departure capacity.
||Mods to Existing
||Integrated + ICC
Capacity of Alternatives Relative to "No Action"
[From DEIS Table ES.1]
The FAA does not appear fully committed to any of the alternatives. The Executive Summary of the MITRE report on the
operational analysis [DEIS Appendix C] states that Alternative (4b) with the full ICC to be the only one worth the trouble
and expense of a major airspace redesign. However, the DEIS body [Page 2-37] states that the FAA has not yet decided
whether to approve the ICC concept because of uncertainty as to whether it meets "operational, safety, and budget
requirements." This may recognize the uncertainty of budgets, schedule, and outcome for a project of this magnitude.
2.1 FAA Thresholds for Reporting Impact
By comparison to the weak and questionable benefits, the noise impacts of the FAA promoted actions are profound. The DEIS
presents its noise data by means of maps, with color-coding denoting areas of change. The DEIS has withheld the noise data
for most of the study area by using very coarse thresholds, as seen in Table 2.
||Overall Noise Level - Decibels DNL
||FAA Threshold for Noting Change
||Actual Noise Change
|Most of Aviation Noise Affected Study Area Closer to Airport (several miles) Airport Immediate Vicinity (1 - 2 miles)
||45 - 60
|60 - 65
|65 or higher
DEIS Noise Thresholds for Reporting Change
For most of the study area, the FAA threshold for showing noise change is 5 decibels, which is equivalent to a factor
3.2 times increase in noise energy. Although this could be caused by aircraft flying at much lower altitudes, it is most
commonly the result of more over-flights by the factor shown in the last column. Thus, most areas would have to receive a
3.2X or greater increase in over-flights to be shown as impacted in the DEIS noise maps. In previous experience with the
EECP and other flight tests, the areas west of EWR are noise sensitive and residents react vehemently to changes much less
than this. Noise was by far the most prominent public concern expressed in the DEIS scoping hearings. Residents should
know when their over-flights might increase by factor of two or three as a result of proposed changes to evaluate and
comment on the DEIS. Thresholds for noting change are smaller closer to the airport, but are still unreasonably high. The
previous EIS for the EECP provided an Appendix, which gave noise in decibels for each alternative and census block. This
information should be provided in the current DEIS.
2.2 Tri-State Overall Noise Impact
Even with these lenient noise thresholds, the number of people that are negatively impacted by the FAA promoted alternatives
is very high as seen by Table 3. The ocean routing alterative, in comparison, offers substantial noise reduction. As
threshold for impact is reduced, the number of people affected gets much higher, so Table 3 vastly understates the effects
of the proposed changes. By way of comparison, the EECP EIS, showed only 45,622 people negatively impacted at the 5 decibel
level. Based on this, Alternatives (2), (4a) and (4b) show 4.1, 4.2, and 7.3 times, respectively, the adverse noise impact
of the EECP. This makes the EECP, which caused an unprecedented large public reaction and intervention by Congress, look
||Mods to Existing
||Integrated + ICC*
|Increased Noise Decreased Noise
Tri -State Noise Affected Population by Alternative
[*All alternatives show 2006 data from DEIS Table ES-2, except Integrated + ICC, which shows 2011 data from DEIS Table ES-3]
2.3 EWR Local Impact of Proposed South Flow Departure "Fanning"
Among the most onerous of the FAA changes is the proposal in Alternatives (2), (4a), and (4b) to "fan" EWR south flow
departures. Doing this discards noise abatement procedures developed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
(PANYNJ) over many years to minimize aggregate population impacts to Elizabeth and Staten Island by utilizing the industrial
areas and waterways south of EWR to allow aircraft to climb. The proposed "fanning" directs aircraft immediately over
residential areas of Elizabeth and adjacent municipalities. The FAA noise impact maps show greatly increased noise in
residential areas, and sharply reduced noise over industrialized areas in which no one is living. Table 4 summarizes the
Impact on People of EWR South Flow Departure Fanning
[DEIS Appendix E, Page E-49]
"Fanning" EWR departures would dramatically increase noise for more than 70,000 people, while benefiting only a small
fraction of that number. This change would disproportionately affect minorities and therefore is subject to environmental
justice concerns. Specifically, a population of 5480 that is more than 83% minority is affected at the highest noise levels.
The DEIS states that possible mitigation will be given in the final EIS, citing four directions, none of which is applicable
- Use of continuous descent profiles: This reduces noise from landing aircraft and is not applicable here because
the noise in question is departure noise.
- Moving aircraft over less noise sensitive areas: This is not applicable because aircraft traversal of noise
sensitive areas near EWR is already minimized by current procedures.
- Use of different procedures at night: Since most flights occur during the daytime hours, the potential benefits
of this are limited and likely will not address the problem.
- Use of sound proofing: This provides limited help only for those who receive it. It is ineffective when people go
outdoors or open their windows. It is also unlikely that the PANYNJ would seek to soundproof the dwellings of upwards of
Given the seven-year time frame of this DEIS, environmental justice concerns should have been addressed prior to showing the
plan to the public. As a further example of the low weighting of environmental concerns throughout this DEIS, FAA's
simulation data for Alternative (2), [DEIS Appendix C, Figure 9-24] shows no gain at all from the 55 operations/hour in EWR
departure capacity, yet the DEIS retained this negative feature within this alternative with its strong adverse noise and
environmental justice impacts.
The DEIS departure fanning incorporates "straight out," 240 degree and 260 degree headings. "Straight out," 250 and 260
degree headings have been previously investigated and rejected in previous PANYNJ and FAA studies because of environmental
or operational issues.
2.4 Broader NJ Impacts of Other Flight Path Changes
Table 5 summarizes impacts to New Jersey of several arrival route changes included in Alternative (4b) IC +ICC. The impacts
are mostly negative and the numbers of people affected is high.
||Rwy 22 Arrival Changes
||Rwy 4 Arrival Changes
||98,714 (Rutherford & Fairlawn)
||40,596 (Morris, Passaic, Sussex)
||19,804 (PA + NJ)
NJ Impacted Population for other Flight Path Changes
III. REVIEW OF DEIS CITED BENEFITS
3.1 Focus on Delays Can Be Misleading
DEIS developers have promoted their favored alternatives by citing 13 summary metrics [DEIS Table ES 1.] These metrics are
far from independent. For example, seven of the thirteen metrics repeat or include as an important component the reduction
in arrival delays related to an increase in arrival capacity.
The DEIS focuses heavily on delays as a metric; this is what the flying public sees and is a source of aviation industry
costs. However, focus on delays can be misleading because they increase dramatically when attempts are made to operate a
system beyond its capacity and because the carriers tend to increase peak hour scheduling according to the tolerable level
of delays. Delay data can be manipulated to justify an expensive project. To do this, FAA can take a system that is
currently operating at capacity, forecast a slight traffic increase that causes delays to climb sharply and then calculate
the associated cost. The FAA then can project a small increase in capacity from an airspace change, which brings the delays
back down. By comparing delays for the two scenarios, the FAA can project large cost savings. These savings are fictitious.
Carriers adjust their scheduling when delays become unacceptable and also adjust scheduling to absorb capacity increases.
The costs of Alternative (4b), the Integrated Airspace with the new Integrated Control Center have been estimated [Crown
Consulting] at 2.5 billion dollars. The focus on delay savings may be an effort to justify these large costs.
3.2 Optimistic DEIS Assumptions - Simultaneous EWR Arrivals
The DEIS makes optimistic assumptions and assumes procedures that may not be workable. To obtain the claimed 6.7% arrival
capacity benefit in Alternative (4b), the FAA assumes dual simultaneous approaches to closely spaced EWR Runway 4 Left and
Right during peak arrival periods, a procedure that has not been established as feasible or workable at EWR. This procedure
requires pairing aircraft according to size to accommodate wake turbulence, and longitudinally staggering their approach.
A 2001 FAA simulation study of simultaneous approaches at EWR, using actual controllers, gave mixed results and fell far
short of demonstrating feasibility. The procedure further requires that departure traffic be shifted to cross EWR Runway 29,
which is a short runway that pilots frequently don't want to use, and which heads immediately over residential areas with
high noise impacts. Longstanding policy and accommodation with the adjacent community of Hillside has been that this runway
will not be used for large jets unless the wind speed exceeds 23 knots. There are also safety and controller workload
issues with this procedure.
3.3 Are these Procedures Safe?
Dual simultaneous arrivals in the preceding section results in increased complexity of the controller's task and increased
possibility of error. Alternative (4b) also reduces separation between aircraft in certain instances from 5 to 3 miles. We
cannot state that either of these is unsafe, but it does appear that simultaneous arrivals and reduced separation both seek
to increase capacity at a possible sacrifice in safety.
IV. OCEAN ROUTING
The FAA did not adequately investigate ocean routing and leaves unresolved the question of whether operational improvements
and net noise reduction can be achieved within the ocean routing framework. The DEIS concluded that the ocean routing would
yield noise reduction for a net 112,264 residents, but rejected it because it would reduce capacity by 7.1%, with especially
heavy impacts at EWR. However, FAA operational modeling results differ from those of the late Glenn Bales, a former FAA
employee with extensive experience with the metro area airspace, who, after simulations, concluded in a July 1994 report
that ocean routing would reduce delays at EWR. A preliminary review of the DEIS and Mr. Bales results shows several areas
of difference that might account for the discrepancy in conclusions. However, the most significant is that the FAA
apparently made no attempt to optimize aspects such as runway use policy, the ability of arrivals to stay at higher
altitudes due to cleared departure airspace to the west of EWR, and other things that would allow the advantages of the
concept to be fully realized. The FAA pointed out operational disadvantages, such as competition with Philadelphia traffic
within certain airspace, but did not investigate possible changes that would address this.
The DEIS also understates potential noise benefits. DEIS simulations projected EWR departure delays that would cause them to
be delayed into the nighttime hours, and therefore incur a 10 decibel penalty in the calculation of DNL noise. This is
equivalent to having each delayed aircraft counted as equivalent to 10 daytime flights. This penalty was more severe in the
2011 scenario. This methodology, however, was not consistent with other areas of the DEIS. For LaGuardia airport, when
capacity issues projected that traffic would occur into the nighttime hours, the DEIS assumed carrier scheduling adjustments
to prevent this.
Thus, further development and optimization of the ocean routing concept should improve both operational and environmental
results. The changes being outlined in ocean routing are far more modest and can be accomplished at less cost and disruption
than other alternatives in the DEIS.
V. DEIS HISTORY AND PROCESS
5.1 History and Previous FAA Promises and Commitments
The previous FAA airspace redesign, the EECP, caused a large negative public reaction. As a result, Congress added to the 1990 Aviation Safety and Capacity Expansion Act (ANCEA), a provision requiring the FAA to perform an EIS of the EECP and seek mitigation of the noise problems that it had caused. This EIS was completed in late 1995. It stated that full mitigation would require major airspace changes, and recommended a limited mitigation, referred to as the Solberg Mitigation, to partially address the problems. The Final EIS excused the limited mitigation by referencing a future major regional redesign in which noise problems would be addressed, stating that the public interest would not be served by delaying limited mitigation until this redesign. However, later when performing the redesign, the FAA refused to include noise reduction as part of its "Purpose and Need" statement, and there is no evidence of any noise reduction effort. In fact, adoption of any of the FAA promoted alternatives would increase noise in the region affected by the EECP and likely violates ANCEA.
During 1998, when the FAA sought to build political and public support for the redesign, then FAA Administrator Jane Garvey traveled to New Jersey, met with NJCAAN, and advertised potential noise benefits of the redesign. Newspaper headlines, FAA, and elected official statements, gave full stature to it's noise reduction possibilities. The first FAA newsletter on the redesign prominently billed noise reduction as one of the expected benefits. The agency listed environmental mitigation (both noise and emissions reduction) in the "Purpose and Need" of it's 2000 pre-scoping document. Noise reduction commitment was maintained throughout the informal reviews. The final plan now fully acknowledges that all of the promoted alternatives will increase noise. Residents of other areas in which the FAA seeks to redesign airspace beware!
5.2 FAA Process for Developing the Flight Path Changes
The FAA apparently worked illegally with members of the aviation industry in developing the operational changes in the DEIS. The changes were developed within subgroups of the Radio Technical Commission on Aeronautics (RTCA). Groups that advise the federal government must comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which has strict rules directing openness of meetings, maintenance of records, avoidance of bias, and controlled public transmittal of information to the federal agency. FACA rules were grossly violated in the development of airspace changes within closed-to-the-public RTCA working groups. A key subgroup chairman represented a corporation opposed to ocean routing and desiring exploration of the dropping of EWR noise abatement restrictions. The FAA also improperly shared interim information on the redesign with closed RTCA subgroups
VI. DEIS COMMENTS AND NEXT STEPS
The FAA announced comment period for the DEIS closes on June 1, 2006. The comment period is a formal legal part of the EIS process in which the pubic is allowed to enter comments on preferences, missing data, issues overlooked, errors, EIS process, legal issues and much else. The FAA is required to consider all comments and address them in the Final EIS. Some time after the final EIS is issued, the FAA will issue a "Record of Decision" describing the actual alternative selected. Failure by the FAA to properly address a comment is basis for later litigation to block the change that the EIS has investigated. Implementation of the FAA promoted alternatives is not in the public interest, and hopefully the FAA will conclude this too and elect to deploy its limited resources elsewhere. However, if the FAA elects to proceed with Alternatives (2), 4(a), and 4(b), a solid foundation for litigation that covers all grounds must be established with DEIS comments.
The FAA will be holding public meetings in which they will provide opportunity for comment. There will be "court reporters" present to take comments, and information on how and where to submit written comments. Residents are urged to attend the public meetings and comment, since failure to do so could be interpreted as lack of interest and caring about this important environmental issue.
- FAA Website: This has the actual DEIS, although beware that it is very large and does not lend readily to downloading on low speed connections. Also of special interest are the Congressional presentations, particularly the December 20, 2005 one.
- New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft (NJCAAN): This has the schedule of FAA meetings as well as a variety of
information on the ongoing effort to achieve quieter skies over New Jersey. See specifically the item marked "DEIS."
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