FAA Explains New Satellite Plan in Pacific Palisades

By Sue Pascoe
Editor

More than 40 residents attended the FAA presentation of the Southern California Metroplex Project on Jan. 25, with hopes for an explanation of what they perceive as increased airline noise over Santa Monica Canyon and the Highlands.

The workshop-style presentation allowed individuals to view a plan that would improve airspace safety and efficiency, by replacing dozens of conventional air routes that use ground-based navigation aids with satellite navigation. Basically, FAA is trading in the Thomas Guide for Waze.

The Metroplex Project will use satellite technology for planes at LAX. Photo courtesy FAA

The Metroplex Project will use satellite technology for planes at LAX.
Photo courtesy FAA

Numerous computers were set up around the room in Mercer Hall at Palisades High School, allowing audience members to view routes and access Google Earth, download their addresses and see the projected increase/decrease in noise over their homes. Experts at each station helped residents understand the new system.

FAA spokesperson Ian McGregor said some routes converge and occupy the same airspace in the Southern California area (which includes six airports—LAX, Santa Monica, Van Nuys, Orange County, Burbank and Long Beach). This requires air traffic controllers to issue complex instructions to pilots to direct aircraft onto more direct routes and to keep them properly separated from one another.

At the workshop, the News spoke to air traffic controller Mike Taylor, who normally handles air traffic coming into Ontario airport from the northeast (over Big Bear).

“This new system cuts down on transmissions from the tower to pilots,” Taylor said, explaining that a single inbound flight may require anywhere from seven to 10 transmissions. “You multiple that by 10 and that’s only incoming.” (Double it for outgoing flights that controllers are also held responsible.)

“I used to have to figure out which ‘highway’ the plane was on,” Taylor said. “But this system lets me know the plane is on ‘the 405’ going 55 mph and that the pilot is starting down.”

The new system also has more efficient climbs and descents. “On the arrival side we can create descents in which aircraft essentially glide down on idle or near-idle power to their final approaches,” McGregor said. “Because engines aren’t spooling up and air brakes aren’t being deployed, the plane makes less noise. And gliding down on idle power means less fuel is burned, which in turn means less CO2 is being released into the environment.”

McGregor said that the vast majority of the new routes will have aircraft flying in the same area they previously flew. The FAA modeled noise at about 300,000 locations throughout Southern California and found that some areas will experience slight noise decreases, some will experience slight noise increases, and some will experience no changes.

The Metroplex website has Google Earth features that allow people to look up projected noise, current and future flight tracks. McGregor’s guess about why some residents might be hearing more noise? More planes. “People were used to hearing one plane go over in an hour, now maybe six go over in an hour,” he said.

One Santa Monica Canyon resident asked McGregor what the FAA could do about the increased flights. He answered that the FAA has no control over airline demand. If fewer people wanted to fly, there would be fewer planes.

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