11/16/15 FAA NorCal Initiative

The “FAA Initiative to Address Noise Concerns of Santa Cruz/Santa Clara/San Mateo/San Francisco Counties” is at http://eshoo.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/11.16.15-FAA-Initiative-to-Address-Noise-Concerns.pdf . The “initiative” is to do analysis, from which some changes might be proposed and implemented. E.g. they say they will analyze the issue of average of many commercial jets each day flying below Class B airspace on Serfr1. These violations of federal law (Code of Federal Regulations 91.131) greatly increase the risk of a collision between a commercial jet and a small plane without a transponder operating under visual flight rules. It is disappointing that in the Initiative the FAA makes no commitment to actually fix the Class B airspace violations, much less a date by when they would do so.

The Initiative says that the date of completion for the various analyses is TBD (to be determined). (The 11/16/15 document release date is not mentioned in the document. There are neither signatures to the document, nor an FAA logo, nor an indication of what office the document was issued from. The url for the document is on anna eshoo’s website, not the FAA’s website. Not a single name of an FAA employee appears anywhere in the document.) The implementation date is TBD for any changes that might be proposed.

Section 1.c.i. says, “On the SERFR arrival, analyze moving EPICK waypoint south to approximately 36 54 52.8N and 121 56 32.7 W, add restriction to speed of 280 knots and altitude of 15,000 feet. (AJV-WOSG).” (The current Epick waypoint is about one statute mile southeast of Opal Cliffs in Capitola.) I checked the possible new Epick waypoint under analysis ( 36 54 52.8N, 121 56 32.7W ) vs. the current Epick waypoint ( 36 57 2.96N, 121 57 9.62W ). That is along the current Serfr1 path and would not be a lateral move of Serfr1; it is not a move to or toward the prior path Big Sur2. Section 1.c.i is just about the possibility of: moving the Epick waypoint further back into the Monterey Bay about 2 1/4 nautical miles, keeping the same 280 knots indicated airspeed, and raising the altitude from a gaping 10-15K’ window to a hard 15K’. (I could not find in the Initiative a definition of AJV or WOSG.)

One ray of hope is Section 1.f.iv, which says, “Study the possibility of new SFO RNP approaches that will serve Runways 28 L/R that follow the Big Sur ground track, curved out over the Bay crossing MENLO at 5000-6000 feet. (AJV-WOSG).” It is unclear whether they will be studying using the Big Sur groundtrack as a primary SFO arrival route over just Santa Clara county or Santa Cruz county too. We need clarification from the FAA on this.

Another ray of hope is Section 3.d.iii., which says, “Review utilizing the current Big Sur for late night cargo arrivals. (AJT, AJV-WOSG).”

Another ray of hope is Section 1.e.i., which says, “On the SERFR arrival, study current use of the holding pattern at EPICK and the possibility of moving the holding pattern to WWAVS. (AJV-WOSG)” (WWAVS is in the Monterey Bay about 4 nautical miles northwest of Marina.)

Another ray of hope is Section 1.c.iii. says, “Evaluate adding a new waypoint roughly over the Highway 17 summit area, between EPICK and EDDYY, with at least a 10,000 feet and 250 knot restriction.” If that gets implemented, that would help. I wish they gave a lat/long for the possible new waypoint, but it does say it would be along the Epick to Eddyy track, so no lateral move! We need that lat/long from the FAA.

Another ray of hope is Section 1.a.i., which says, “Analyze raising the floor and ceiling of existing SERFR and BRIXX arrivals. (AJV-WOSG) a) Evaluate raising the altitude at MENLO waypoint to 5,000 feet or establish a new waypoint to allow for crossing the MENLO area closer to 5,000 feet.” However, I see nothing in the doc that clearly suggests they will analyze placing BRIXX above Serfr1.

Section 1.c.iii. says, “Analyze current RNAV arrival and departure procedures to determine necessity and feasibility of redesigning Class B airspace. (AJI, AJV- WOSG)” That suggests they might lower Class B airspace rather than raising the commercial jets illegally dropping below the current Class B airspace…not good. At the end of Sep. 2015, I sampled six days, and out of all the planes on Serfr1 I found an average of 25 jets illegally flying more than 200′ below Class B airspace on Serfr1 (with a sample standard deviation for the number of planes of 8.1).

Section 1.f.i. says, “Evaluate proposed PBN arrival procedures from local community groups for feasibility, fly-ability and safety concerns.” I don’t know what specific PBN arrival procedures they are referring to; we need clarification from the FAA on this.

On p. 2 is a key quote relevant to the timeline: “As such, although not specifically detailed within this noise initiative, the FAA’s procedures and standards for evaluating noise impacts associated with all potential modifications to currently published procedures—consistent with FAA Order 1050.1F (effective July 16, 2015)—will be followed and undertaken before implementing any airspace changes. Finally, this document does not constitute either a final decision of the FAA or a re-opening of the FAA’s August 6, 2014 final decision for the Northern California (NorCal) Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM).” So, they will have to go through an environmental review, perhaps a full environmental assessment with public comment periods, before implementing any changes under analysis. The Study Team for the NorCal Metroplex began their work in 2011 or 2012, and Serfr1 was not implemented until 3/5/15, so it could be a long slog for any new changes. For legal reasons the FAA is framing any potential changes to currently published procedures as a new decision rather than a revision and re-opening of the 7/31/14 NorCal Metroplex decision. Any such upcoming changes could not be undone easily.

Any changes in ATC or Traffic Management instructions probably would not be published, but if they are made and are helpful, I think it would be good to ask for them to be described to us in writing and to seek a commitment that they will be permanent.

One comment

  • This is an excellent analysis. I hope the rays of hope you’ve found in the FAA’s proposal translate into real noise relief for your community. I suggest that the reason the FAA has specifically stated, “this document does not constitute either a final decision of the FAA or a re-opening of the FAA’s August 6, 2014 final decision for the Northern California (NorCal) Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM),” is to preserve their legal argument that the time for filing a legal action in this matter has expired per 49 U.S.C. Section 46110(a) which states that a Petition for Review must be filed no later than 60 days after a final order is issued by the FAA (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/49/46110). If negotiations fall apart, and the community decides to sue, the FAA will likely argue that the community’s time to file a lawsuit expired 60 days after its “final decision” of August 6, 2014. That is basically how the FAA has responded to the lawsuits filed against it in Phoenix – by filing a Motion to Dismiss claiming they were not timely filed (and this, after they engaged in months of sham negotiations with our city officials, at the end of which they conceded they had no intention of making any changes that would provide meaningful noise relief). Deception and delay seem to be the FAA’s watchwords for dealing with community noise concerns. I sincerely hope your community is able to reach a resolution with the FAA and wish you the best of luck in doing so.

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