AIN Blog: RNP Offers Alternative Fix for Airport Noise

 - May 6, 2011, 6:12 AM

There’s a new way to fix long-standing noise and emissions problems at airports that are surrounded by nearby neighbors, such as Naples Airport in Florida and Santa Monica Airport in Southern California. 

Naples has long been attacked by neighbors concerned about jet noise, and Santa Monica regularly suffers criticism from local politicians, especially during elections. The attacks range from noise to purported lead pollution from 100 octane avgas, emissions from turbine engines and concerns about the safety of houses that abut the ends of the airport’s single runway.

One problem at Santa Monica is that IFR traffic departing to the west from Runway 21 must be coordinated with westerly departures from nearby Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). This involves coordination between flight crew and the Santa Monica tower, which works with LAX controllers. Jet pilots are supposed to delay engine start until the coordination delivers a clear departure slot, thus lowering emissions blowing onto nearby neighbors.

This is all good in theory, but in practice Santa Monica Airport neighbors still complain bitterly about jet-A fumes, noisy piston airplanes and safety issues. And a visit to the airport’s excellent public viewing area shows that turbine aircraft don’t always start up then take off promptly.

There is a way to solve the traffic conflict problem at Santa Monica Airport and lower the noise perceived by its neighbors. This technique won’t help solve the safety issue at Santa Monica, but it could result in better neighborly relations all around, which would be a step forward. And it could also help other airports, such as Naples.

The idea is to persuade the city of Santa Monica to pay for performance-based navigation (PBN) procedures that would minimize noise and emissions problems. PBN employs the highly precise navigation equipment found in many modern aircraft to develop approach, departure and arrival procedures that bypass trouble spots while also using precise timing to cross navigation targets at specified times. The actual procedures are called Required Navigation Performance Authorization Required (RNP AR), because a high level of navigation accuracy is needed in the aircraft, and flight crew need special training to learn how to fly the procedures safely.

PBN procedures got their start in Juneau, Alaska, eventually spawning a company called Naverus, since purchased by General Electric. GE Naverus technical fellow Steve Fulton, who used to fly for Alaska Airlines, helped develop the first PBN approach at Juneau and even flew the first RNP procedure into that airport. Since the FAA began allowing third-party companies like GE Naverus and Jeppesen to develop RNP procedures, the market for these should grow.

One benefit of getting third-party companies involved in developing RNP procedures is that they can be deployed much faster than those developed by the FAA. Last August, GE Naverus deployed the first third-party developed public-use RNP procedure in the U.S., at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. The company has already developed 330 such procedures around the world.
Just yesterday (May 5), GE Naverus announced the deployment of the first public-use RNP procedure in Alaska, at Deadhorse. The development process took four months.

For a beleaguered city like Santa Monica, Fulton said, “We could develop procedures on behalf of Santa Monica that would then be part of the national airspace infrastructure.” And an RNP procedure doesn’t have to be an IFR approach but can be tailored to remedy a local problem, like deconflicting the departure traffic at Santa Monica and LAX.

Someone needs to tell all the posturing Southern California politicians who use Santa Monica Airport as a punching bag that there are other ways to resolve the airport’s problems. Privately developed RNP procedures ought to be considered, rather than pushing congressional legislators to pass bills that would limit or eliminate jet operations at Santa Monica.