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 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.
From Nov. 18 through Dec. 20, the public was able to comment on any of the changes made between the draft environmental assessment of the plan and the final environmental assessment.
Changes between the draft study and final study are listed here.
The rest of the documents related to the plan are available here. The link labeled "final EA full document" still goes to the draft, but the one above it lists changes made in the final study.
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.
After that, the agency took comments online and by physical mail during a roughly six-week public comment period, which lasted until June 6, about the April 22 draft EA.
The FAA sent out an announcement of the project in May 2016. Public comment was initially accepted through early June 2016, according to the notice.
The agency hosted 12 public workshops to explain the project and take comments between April and May 2017. It also fielded online comments for a month afterward.
Developments surrounding the FAA's Metroplex plan over the past year:
• 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
• Centennial Airport pulls its legal action on a technicality but plans to bring it again: Centennial Airport legal action against FAA over flight plans delayed
• The FAA's final version of its study on the Metroplex plan upholds the determination that the plan will not have significant impacts — meaning further review isn’t necessary before the plan is put into action: Final Denver Metroplex flight-path study upholds planned changes
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.
“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.”
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.
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