The Federal Aviation Administration wants to be sure you hear about the changes the agency is proposing for flights arriving at and departing from Tampa International Airport and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.
What you won’t hear — according to the FAA — is more noise from arriving and departing planes.
Michael O’Harra, regional administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Southern Region, and other FAA officials outlined the proposed changes to flight paths and procedures during a media briefing Monday, in advance of two virtual workshops this week. The workshops, Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, will let local residents see videos, hear from air traffic controllers and try out the FAA’s noise analysis tool.
The workshops are focused on the recently completed draft environmental assessment for the FAA’s plan to modernize air traffic procedures in the South-Central Florida Metroplex, which includes Tampa International, St. Pete-Clearwater and 19 other airports.
“Many of the existing air traffic procedures over central and south Florida are based on outdated technology. While safe, those procedures are less precise and efficient than procedures based on satellite technology. The satellite-based routes proposed for the Metroplex project will enhance safety and efficiency across the state and in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area,” O’Harra said. “Metroplex will benefit passengers by creating more direct routes. It will decrease congestion at airports and in the air, improve air traffic flows enhancing safety and efficiency, and make the system safer by reducing the complexity in communications between air traffic controllers and pilots.”
The changes only impact planes when they are flying at 10,000 feet or higher.
“Planes will make their final approaches the way they do today,” O’Harra said. “We’re making changes at the higher altitude that get you in and out of the Tampa area, but those procedures end at the higher altitude and the planes continue at the routes they have today.”
There currently is a lot of interaction on the departure routes between St. Pete-Clearwater and Tampa International airports.
“We have been able to simplify some of the crossings that occur in that air space and take advantage of the precision that exists with these new procedures,” he said.
Before the FAA can make changes, it is required to make an environmental assessment to determine the potential impact of the procedures. There are 14 environmental categories, with most of the focus on noise.
“The analysis determined the proposed procedures will not cause significant environmental impacts to any of the resource categories, including aviation noise,” O’Harra said.
The analysis is based on expected flight levels in 2021 and 2026. While passenger travel dropped dramatically this spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposed changes were designed with an anticipated return to pre-pandemic levels.
The FAA posted the draft environmental assessment May 11. Click here to see the full document. That posting opened a 60-day public comment period that ends July 10.
The workshops will be held online from 6 to 8 p.m. June 4 and from 12-2 p.m. June 5. Click here for registration. Once you register, you can take a tour of the virtual “lobby” in advance, with posters, video explanations of the changes and the noise assessment tool. A live Q&A will take place at the time of the workshops. The workshops also will be recorded for those who cannot attend the live sessions.
The FAA will review all comments submitted by July 10, and plans to make a final environmental determination by the end of September. If approved, the changes could take effect in spring or summer of 2021.