Residents, officials lobbying against FAA flight path proposal
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 11/11/15 - 05:13 PM | 32283 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Southwest plane descends over Harbor Drive heading to San Diego International Airport. / Photo by Thomas Melville
A Southwest plane descends over Harbor Drive heading to San Diego International Airport. / Photo by Thomas Melville
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Now that a public review period for an environmental assessment for the Federal Aviation Administration's proposed SoCal Metroplex project has come and gone, the public and elected officials are lobbying for and against the proposal.

The SoCal project is intended to improve the efficiency of airspace in Southern California by optimizing aircraft arrival and departure procedures at more than 20 regional airports, including San Diego’s. The project may involve changes in aircraft flight paths and altitudes in certain areas, but the FAA claims it would not increase the number of aircraft operations within the Southern California airspace.

The draft environmental assessment for the SoCal Metroplex project, released in June, has since closed. Many Peninsulans have said they want the FAA to consider retaining the LOWMA waypoint latitude-longitude navigational guide, which for more than 20 years has limited aircraft flying over Point Loma. They argue that deviating from that waypoint will bring more flights, more noise and more pollution over more areas of Point Loma that were previously unaffected.

“We released the draft environmental assessment for the proposed Southern California Metroplex project on June 10, and the public comment period ended Oct. 8,” said FAA public affairs manager Ian Gregor. “We held 11 public workshops on the draft EA between June 16 and July 2, including in San Diego. We extended the project's public comment period twice. We do not plan additional workshops.”

Gregor said those who contend that proposed flight changes associated with the SoCal Metroplex project are a fait accompli are mistaken.

“We have not made any decisions on the project yet,” Gregor said. “We have not changed any flight procedures around San Diego in many years. If we were to decide to proceed, we would implement the new procedures between November 2016 and March 2017.”

The office of U.S. Rep. Scott Peters,whose congressional district 52 includes Point Loma, said the congressman has heard from “hundreds of concerned constituents” on the FAA matter.

Peters sent a second letter dated Oct. 30 to FAA administrator Michael Huerta restating his opposition to the proposed removal of the LOWMA waypoint for eastbound departures from San Diego International Airport. He also called on the FAA to do a much better and faster job of responding to the “real concerns” of residents within and around the flight path.

“Previously, I submitted comments to the EA emphasizing the importance of maintaining waypoint LOWMA, near the tip of Point Loma over which eastbound flights departing from San Diego International Airport (SAN) must pass to the south,” said Peters' letter. “… [P]roposed (flight) changes have the potential for significant negative impacts on communities that have long had a 'good neighbor' relationship with the FAA and SAN. … In the mid-1990s, Point Lomans, through their elected officials, and the FAA agreed to install 'noise dots' so that controllers would direct all departures to the west of SAN and a dot beyond the tip of Point Loma for eastbound aircraft to go around.”

Noting the red dot agreement “is important for several reasons,” Peters said it represents “agreed-upon acceptable standards and practices for flight operations.”

“Destroying such a precedent in a unilateral manner sends residents the message that their federal government may not keep its promises,” Peters said. “It is proof that these residents are willing to do their part understanding their proximity to a major international airport requires some reasonable accommodations of them.”

Pointing out that the red dot agreement shows the community and the FAA “are capable of working together at a regional level,” Peters added, “Perhaps the red dot agreement, negotiated close to 20 years ago, is in need of an update. Who better to provide input than the same residents who have co-existed with an international airport for decades.”

Point Loman Casey Schnoor, who's launched a petition drive opposing the SoCal Metroplex plan that has garnered more than 3,500 signatures to date, said it's his understanding that responses to the SoCal Metroplex Environmental Assessment questions should be complete before the end of the year. He said the FAA will then move to create a final environmental assessment. Any implementation of the NextGen changes, which were originally scheduled for February of 2016, will now be delayed, Schnoor added.

Schnoor said Mayor Kevin Faulconer is “working closely with the FAA, is currently researching the issues and has a second call scheduled with Lynn Ray, Sr., FAA administrator in charge of NextGen in Washington, D.C., in two weeks.

“We have met with and are working closely with the Airport Authority reviewing flight track data, crafting lists of concerns and recommendations to become the basis for a new red dot noise agreement with FAA-Air Traffic,” Schnoor said, adding Coronado Mayor Casey Tanaka has also written the FAA in opposition to proposed NextGen flight path changes.

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