FAA's New Policy: Not For MSP?

Andy Pasztor and Jon Kamp of the Wall Strett Journal reported this week that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is "... paying more attention to potential hazards ... near busy runways in the event aircraft lose an engine during takeoff.

A pending policy change requires a single alternate flight path to be "...designated for use in case of an engine-out takeoff." Locating potential obstacles that could come into play if an engine malfunctions (or falls off). The requirement, for the first time ever, "explicitly calls for reviewing the height and location of new construction projects near hub airports." Currently, FAA only considers potential hazards with all engines working and requires each airline to determine individual fight paths to avoid obstacles if an engine should quit. 

Strangely, safety in itself hasn't been of concern: proposed development around major hub airports is. Height limitations potentially threaten developments considered vital by local communities. Important developers and municipal zoning authorities view the FAA policy shift as a  "reversal of long-standing FAA policy."  They argue that imposing more stringent height restrictions requires a formal rule-making process.  

"The issue has prompted high-level deliberations inside the FAA and the Transportation Department ... with lawyers for some large real-estate developers." the Journal article said. 

Now, the FAA wants to consider "a broader definition of capacity when evaluating new obstacles." The proposal, among other things, highlights how construction of everything from high-rise structures to microwave towers to windmills is encroaching on airspace near many airports. The article reported that 
the revised criteria already have been applied at several busy airports, and the FAA hopes to expand it nationwide.  Instead of individual airlines continuing to tailor emergency takeoff routes to safely clear surrounding buildings, according to the industry official, the FAA instead wants developers to tailor their buildings to suit the wide array of emergency procedures developed by airlines.

SMAAC's view is more sanguine. Flight paths are always an important consideration for property development around airports. Many airports have or want multi-story hotels on or adjacent to airport property to avoid passenger check-in and security delays.  

Building heights, designated safety zones, and vacant or compatible-use zones are airport site complications.  The communities around MSP have always compromised, tolerated airliner changes and airline practices using longer runways, more runways, and more flight paths.  Cities excepted ridiculous definitions of "compatible land use" and the Minnesota Transportation Commissioner refused to require safety zones (secondary, or zone B) serving the new runway.  She argued, as this writer recalls, that there were no such safety zones -- other than Lake Nokomis or the River Valleys -- serving the parallel runways.


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