Older methods to direct air traffic in the metro area largely depend on navigational aids on the ground or radar by air traffic controllers, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Area navigation, or RNAV, can put pilots on more direct routes, generally through satellite technology. It requires less communication between air traffic control and pilots and makes for more efficient use of airspace, according to the agency. RNAV changes have been part of NextGen, a set of updates the FAA is making in the Denver area and around the nation.
The Metroplex plan is another part of the NextGen updates. It aims to make further changes with new flight paths for airports in metro areas like Denver.
The potential airports affected in the Metroplex plan are Centennial Airport, Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in the Broomfield area, Denver International Airport, Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland and Greeley-Weld County Airport.
A link to the draft of the Federal Aviation Administration study — or the “environmental assessment” — is located here, under the heading “draft EA main document.”
The FAA held 12 public meetings, mostly in the Denver metro area, at which FAA representatives answered questions about the project and took written comments. Those ran from April 29 to May 16.
The final environmental assessment will give the last word on whether further study needs to be done on the potential impact. Before that, the agency took comments online and by physical mail during a roughly six-week public comment period that lasted until June 6.
The FAA sent out an announcement of the project in May 2016.
It’s anticipated the FAA will present a final environmental assessment in September and begin implementation of the project around March 2020.
Developments surrounding the FAA's Metroplex plan over the past few months:
• Mayors in Englewood, Littleton and beyond in the Denver metro area raised concerns about new flight paths: South metro Denver area braces for potential flight-path changes
• The FAA's draft of the study on Metroplex says the plan will have "no significant impact" on the metro-area noise, air quality, wildlife, and historic and cultural resources: Metroplex flight-path impact portrayed as minor by feds
• At one of the FAA's public meetings, the agency says the notable changes in flight paths will only involve about eight flights per day: Noise impact of altered flight paths to be mostly small, FAA says
• Centennial Airport writes a letter to the FAA, saying its plan would put planes in "volatile conditions" and that the agency did not properly study its environmental effects: Centennial Airport says FAA left gaps in flight path study
• Centennial Airport files legal action against the FAA in federal court, pushing for a further look at what the plan's effects could be: Centennial Airport taking FAA to court over flight paths
After a south Denver metro airport took legal action over how carefully the federal government is evaluating the potential impacts of a flight-path rerouting plan, the airport withdrew its case on a technicality but could file it again later this year.
“Centennial Airport voluntarily withdrew the petition for review with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals because we were advised the filing was premature,” said Deborah Grigsby Smith, Centennial Airport spokesperson.
In its June 19 legal filing, Centennial Airport looked to take the Federal Aviation Administration to court over the agency’s NextGen Denver Metroplex project, which aims to optimize arrival and departure at local airports. That includes Denver International Airport, Centennial Airport and some others. An FAA study, called a draft environmental assessment, looked at impacts the project could have on noise, air quality, wildlife, and historic and cultural resources.
The proposed change in flight paths is expected to have “no significant impacts” on those aspects of the Denver metro area, according to the April 22 study.
The airport contends that the analysis thus far has left crucial gaps on what effects the federal plan could have on noise over south metro cities such as Littleton, Centennial and others.
Based on the FAA’s study, the lack of potential effects means a more rigorous review, called an Environmental Impact Study, isn’t necessary before the plan is put into action, according to the FAA.
That’s one of the determinations and actions by the FAA at issue in Centennial Airport’s legal action, which was a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In the June filing, the Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority — the government body that oversees the airport — asked the court to review the FAA’s study, its determination that an EIS isn’t needed and its proposed changes in flight procedures.
Agency spokesperson Allen Kenitzer has said the FAA does not comment on ongoing litigation. The court formally dismissed the case Aug. 16, according to federal records.
The airport withdrew its legal action because it could only be filed when the FAA issues a finding of “no significant impact,” Grigsby Smith said, which doesn’t happen until its analysis is final.
“The FAA agreed to notify the airport when the environmental assessment is no longer a draft in exchange for our withdrawal,” Grigsby Smith said. “We will refile as soon as that happens, possibly as soon as September or October of this year.”
The airport’s filing also had requested a look at whether the FAA can carry out the Metroplex plan before completing studies required by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, a law passed by Congress.
The recent law requires the FAA to study the agency’s “community involvement” practices regarding NextGen Metroplex projects; the effect of aircraft noise on communities; the relationship between noise and health impacts such as sleep disturbance and elevated blood pressure, as well as the effect on businesses located under certain flight paths; and whether 65 decibels and up remains an acceptable FAA standard for significant noise exposure, according to a June 5 letter from the airport to the FAA.
The airport’s executive director, Robert Olislagers, has said that the results of those studies could significantly impact the Metroplex project, as well as the FAA’s conclusion that it would cause no significant impacts to the metro area.
The airport has also argued that the FAA didn’t consider the impact of the part of flight that occurs below 3,000 feet above ground, and that leaves unclear how much communities could be affected. Littleton, Centennial, Cherry Hills Village, Lone Tree, Castle Rock and other nearby cities could experience notable effects, Olislagers has said, although it is unclear how much.
The FAA contends that most proposed flight paths in the Denver area closely follow what are being flown today.
Legal action has been initiated against the FAA regarding NextGen implementations in Phoenix, as well as in the Los Angeles area and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region, according to the airport’s letter.
There have not been any significant impacts found to be expected by any draft — or final — environmental assessment for the 11 active or completed Metroplex projects in the country, according to Kenitzer.
No Metroplex project so far has undergone the more rigorous EIS review. All projects have been reviewed as environmental assessments to this point, Kenitzer said.
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