FAA gives final green light to Denver Metroplex flight-path changes

Plan to be implemented in March; Centennial Airport to refile legal action


After nearly four years since the federal government put plans in motion to reroute airplane traffic in the Denver metro area, the changes are now slated to be implemented this spring.

The Federal Aviation Administration's plan to optimize arrival and departure at local airports is called the Denver Metroplex project, and it includes Denver International Airport, Centennial Airport and some others.

An FAA study, called an 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 project's area, including metro Denver and the Greeley area, according to the study.

Now, the FAA has released an official final word — a “Finding of No Significant Impact” and “Record of Decision” — which enables the agency to move forward with the Metroplex project. The decision was announced Jan. 24.

The finding means the FAA has determined that a further review, called an environmental impact statement, isn't necessary before the plan is put into action, according to the FAA's website.

No significant impacts have been found to be expected by any environmental assessment of the 11 active or completed Metroplex projects around the nation, and all projects have been reviewed with EAs, as of December, according to FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer.

While the plan would directly impact only a handful of airports, potential effects could be felt in an area that includes all, or portions of, 31 counties in Colorado — although the FAA's analysis indicates only a few dozen people would experience notable noise increases, located in unincorporated Jefferson County and unincorporated Elbert County.

Conflicting accounts

“The FAA's environmental review for the project indicates some people will experience slight noise decreases, some will see no changes and some will experience small noise increases,” the FAA said in a news release. “Additionally, some people might see aircraft where they did not previously fly after the Denver Metroplex procedures are implemented.”

Centennial Airport has argued at length 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 effects, but it's unknown how much, Robert Olislagers, executive director of Centennial Airport, has said.

“As has been stated before, the FAA completely ignores impacts below 3,000 (feet above ground), which makes any noise modeling deeply flawed,” the airport wrote in a Dec. 18 letter to the FAA.

That means the final part of flight wasn't adequately analyzed by the agency, the airport argued in a June 5 letter to the FAA.

Kenitzer, the FAA spokesman, said in December that noise modeling was done in the environmental assessment for the portion of flight that occurs below 3,000 feet above ground for all proposed paths in the Metroplex plan, and said that includes the final portion of flight.

It's unclear what explains the discrepancy between the airport's and FAA's statements.

“We respectfully disagree with the FAA,” Olislagers said. The airport intends to argue that point as part of its upcoming legal action against the agency.

As for where exactly people could see more intense traffic, Colorado Community Media has previously reported that flights would have the same landing angle in the area around Centennial Airport and will fly the same altitudes as today, according to the FAA.

Regarding whether those statements apply to takeoff and landing operations below 3,000 feet above ground, Kenitzer said:

“Many factors beyond existing procedures and Metroplex proposed procedures determine historic and future aircraft overflight and the altitude of that overflight. Areas of anticipated aircraft overflight … considered by the DEN Metroplex Project have occurred and may occur anywhere over Douglas County or Arapahoe County at or above altitudes FAA defines and the aircraft operator determines for the safe operation of aircraft.”

Change out west

During the recent planning process, the FAA made a handful of tweaks to the list of proposed new flight paths, but the notable planned new paths in south metro Denver remain unchanged.

One path, the ZIMMR, represents a change for the Boulder area that was brought about by public complaint.

The existing FOOOT path — which the ZIMMR would replace — flies directly over the south-central portion of the City of Boulder, and an update to the proposed ZIMMR moved the path even farther to the south than the original proposed change, according to the environmental assessment.

That route will run north of the Gilpin County boundary, according to the finding of no significant impact. Residents in that county have recently complained about planned flight path changes, according to Denver-area media reports.

“However, rapidly changing atmospheric conditions and convective activity over the Front Range may require air traffic control to build in a greater margin of safety (than) the minimum separation standards for aircraft which may affect aircraft” on that path, the document says, implying that there will be variation in where flights on that route fly.

“The procedure will not be over Gilpin County, but that does not mean that aircraft will not be (directed over) there during times of convective activity,” Kenitzer said.

Last year, Centennial Airport took legal action — a petition for review — against the FAA over the Metroplex project.

That move came in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In the June 19 legal 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 environmental impact statement isn't needed and its proposed changes in flight procedures.

The airport later withdrew its case because the filing was premature, and the court formally dismissed the case Aug. 16. The airport plans to file its case again but does not yet have a firm date.

“We feel the FAA essentially based (its final decision) on the (environmental assessment) and ignored the comments from Centennial Airport and others,” Olislagers said.

Denver Metroplex, flight path, Centennial Airport, Denver International Airport, FAA, Ellis Arnold


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