Airplane navigation and its impact on the community

The most recent Federal Aviation Policy bill requires the FAA to implement the next generation of airplane navigation, conveniently known as NextGen. The law requires FAA to implement NextGen at the 35 largest airports by 2025. The FAA states, “NextGen enhances safety, reduces delays, saves fuel and reduces aviation's environmental impact.” ( A portion of NextGen is a series of departure and arrival procedures known at RNAV.

Under current departure procedures, airplanes leave the runway and are told to turn a specific direction, but the plane is still at the mercy of how quickly it can become stable in the air before making the initial turn, and the winds aloft, so the path of the planes can vary significantly depending on the type of plane, how heavily it is loaded, and the weather. Under RNAV, planes would take off and then all aim for a specific point that is a couple miles out from the airport. Therefore, the closer to the point the planes get, the more flights there are all flying a very similar path. Since the points would be the same every day, those paths are very predictable. This change is very good news for airports that have a freeway, rivers, industrial corridor or other land that does not have homes on it. The planes can be routed over these compatible land uses, lessening the impact of airplane noise on residential homes.

Since 2010, the FAA has been meeting with airlines and other airport users to solicit their input into where to place these points around MSP. In January of 2012, the FAA was on the agenda of the Noise Oversight Committee (NOC) to publically present where the points would be located, but just before the meeting, they withdrew their request to make a presentation. It was on the agenda for the next NOC meeting in March, and again withdrawn. Finally in September, the FAA was ready to present the tracks. The MAC had planned that the community representatives of NOC would develop a plan for public notification (not input) of the tracks before the next NOC meeting in November and then implement the notification plan between November and January. However, at the meeting the FAA stated that they needed things to move much faster than that. They said that due to time constraints with their testing equipment, they either needed the MAC to show their support for the RNAV tracks as presented, without any opportunity for changes, or the implementation of the project would be delayed until the fall of 2014.

The City of Minneapolis and residents of SW Minneapolis immediately recognized problems with the RNAV tracks. Currently, flights take off from the south parallel runway (R 30L) and generally follow Crosstown 62. But the actual track the plane follows depends on how quickly it can turn and the winds aloft. The development of RNAV tracks was an opportunity for the FAA to put the flights in a very tight pattern over the Crosstown, or some other compatible land use. But instead, the FAA developed two main tracks for Runway 30L. One track over the Crosstown and was projected to handle approximately half of the flights. But the other half of the flights would have concentrated flights over a swath of residential homes in SW Minneapolis and Edina, aimed at a point just south of downtown Hopkins. The FAA said that they needed the two tracks because at the very busiest times at the airport, they would not have the capacity for all the flights that would be departing off of 30L. Spread out over a 24 hour period (or actually 16 hours - 7am to 11pm), there is plenty of capacity, but being a hub airport for Delta, MSP has banks of hours where a number of flights come in to MSP, the passengers catch their connecting flight and then lots of flights are trying to leave all at the same time. It is during these banks that there would not be enough capacity.

Residents and City officials from both Minneapolis and Edina strenuously objected to the lack of public process in developing the RNAV tracks. The MAC listened and asked the FAA to move forward with implementation of RNAV on most runways at MSP, but to delay in the implementation of the tracks for 30L and 30R.

At this point, the FAA is investigating whether they can implement RNAV safely on some of the runways while not implementing it on 30L and 30R. The FAA has stated they currently do not plan to implement RNAV tracks for 30R and 30L, and as of now, do not have plans to revisit that decision. Obviously decisions can change, so the city is watching this topic closely. Proactively, the City is working on advisory information for the FAA about what a public process to notify residents of this proposed change should entail, in case the FAA decides to implement RNAV tracks on 30R and 30L.



Last updated Jun 7, 2013