By Jody Steinberg
Residents have until April 5 to comment on the Federal Aviation Administration proposal to allow aircraft flying in and out of Hartsfield –Jackson International Airport to fly lower over parts of metro Atlanta.
Lowering flight altitudes would increase the ability of air traffic controllers to maintain constant contact with commercial aircraft for landings and takeoffs at Hartsfield, the world’s busiest airport. FAA officials say the changes will improve safety and efficiency at Hartsfield.
The lower ceilings also would compress airspace for other metro air traffic, in particular airplanes flying in and out of DeKalb County’s Peachtree DeKalb Airport, Georgia’s second busiest airport. Aircraft using visual flight rules must fly below the floor of Class B airspace, which is reserved for aircraft navigating with instrumentation, or using instrument flight rules.
This means much PDK air traffic will be pushed to fly even closer to the ground, which could increase noise and pollution for DeKalb residents, airport Director C. Lee Remmel, local pilots and others say.
“It could make us a less efficient airport,” Remmel warned representatives of the FAA and air traffic controllers recently at a Chamblee meeting. “It could keep aircraft arriving and departing at lower levels, which means it could increase noise around our area. You can’t just leave us out here and not consider the environmental impact on the satellite airports.”
Remmel, who says PDK has spent years working with neighbors on noise abatement issues, fears that the compressed airspace will force PDK pilots to fly lower and idle longer on the ground.
“The FAA wants to avoid doing an environmental impact statement, and they are probably correct that there won’t be an impact on Class B [airspace],” Remmel said recently. “But we’re trying to convince them that the unintended consequences will impact the environments around our airports.”
In recent weeks, FAA representatives and Air Traffic Controllers have held a series of public meetings around Atlanta, including three in Chamblee earlier this month, to allow public comment on the proposal.
This is the first time the FAA has changed air space for commercial traffic in metro Atlanta since 1977. Since the last change, Hartsfield-Jackson has grown from three runways to five and traffic has doubled to almost one million operations a year.
“By expanding the boundary, the aircraft will always be [in contact with ATC]. It makes managing airspace more efficient,” explained FAA airspace specialist Jim Allerdice. “Our purpose is to make sure that 90 million Hartsfield passengers are protected, and assure a safe, efficient flow of air traffic. This will happen with the new design.”
According the FAA, Class B airspace refers to altitudes below 10,000 feet above sea level in designated areas surrounding major airports. Pilots using those airports must have altitude-encoding transponders and maintain continuous radio contact with air traffic controllers once they enter Class B.
If Class B altitudes are changed, aircraft using visual flight rules that fly in and out of regional airports will have to fly lower, which will make their flights less efficient.
Since altitudes are measured “above sea level” and metro Atlanta is already just over 1,000 feet above sea level, the altitudes will seem even lower.
In the area immediately surrounding PDK, jumbo commercial aircraft might be permitted to fly as low as 4,000 feet above DeKalb rooftops, while PDK traffic would fly even lower.
A number of steps in the regulatory process must be followed before the FAA can pass the new guidelines. Citizen comments will be considered before the next phase in the process.
Need more info? You can read the Commissioners’ resolution and Lee Remmel’s letter to the FAA at www.pdkairport.org.
To submit comments, e-mail: 7-ASo-ESC-OSG-Airspace-Comments@faa.gov.