Washington Report: Flight path changes due in D.C. area

 - May 15, 2008, 9:56 AM

Changes in flight paths around the Washington-Baltimore area, which have nothing to do with security implications, are being proposed in anticipation of the new Potomac Tracon coming online later this year.

Located at Vint Hill, Va., about 15 nm south of Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), the new Tracon will house terminal controllers from five airports–Andrews Air Force Base, Baltimore-Washington International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Richmond (Va.) International and IAD– in a single facility.

In conjunction with the pending startup of the Potomac Tracon, the FAA has issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on proposed changes to flight paths, and is seeking public comment. The EIS includes three options, primarily dealing with routes generally more than five nautical miles from the five airports but no further out than 75 nm.

NBAA said the new Tracon consolidation will result in strong improvement in traffic flows in and around the Washington-Baltimore areas, and it “strongly encourages” its members to comment on the draft EIS.

“It is important to note that other non-aviation interests often take the opportunity to use the EIS comment period to ‘stack the deck’ with negative comments that the FAA is under legal obligation to consider when making final determinations,” NBAA said. “This is an opportunity to ensure that fair and adequate comments representing the aviation community are also considered.”

The FAA said noise-abatement procedures at area airports will not change under any of the three options. Although noise was the main criterion used in the FAA’s environmental assessment, it considered 18 other criteria intended to improve safety and efficiency. The EIS assesses the effect of each option by comparing it with the current situation.

Air traffic routes and procedures in the Baltimore-Washington area have not changed significantly since 1987, even though numbers of flights, the types and performance of aircraft and the markets they serve have. The FAA said the forthcoming opening of a new Tracon to serve the entire area offers the opportunity to redesign the airspace.

Control towers at the five airports and the controllers who staff them will continue as before. Controllers will begin directing traffic from the new Tracon later this year, and the facility will be in full operation next spring.

There will be a 90-day period ending late next month for the public and government agencies to comment on the EIS, and the FAA will hold a series of public hearings this month. After evaluating comments, the agency will publish a final EIS and then choose any alternative. It plans to issue a “record of decision” this fall.