Newport Beach Independent — April 1, 2011
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Bob Pastore

Update on John Wayne Airport Takeoff Routes

When the FAA implemented a new departure path out of John Wayne Airport in late 2009, the residents of Eastbluff noticed an immediate increase in noise and flyovers. JWA is like many high-traffic airports which use Federal Aviation Administration- designed Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) and the FAA implemented a new SID departure in October 2009 that was labeled the DUUKE1. The DUUKE1 was JWA’s first GPS-based departure.

The FAA is rapidly moving to a new air traffic control system, referred to as NextGen - for Next Generation. It involves replacing 75-year-old technology – radar – with Global Positioning System (GPS) accuracy. For air traffic control purposes, radar acquires a signal from the airplane’s transponder telling the air traffic controller the flight’s identification, altitude and groundspeed.

While this is good stuff, the inherent limitation is that the antenna rotates every 4.8 seconds, which makes the controller “blind” for 4.79999 seconds until the next antenna sweep. Therefore, all air traffic control procedures for airplane separation in the United States are based on this 4.8-second metric. In addition, distance from the antenna also degrades accuracy, so that the actual position of the airplane versus what’s on the radar display could differ by something in the neighborhood of 500-700 feet. Not good for placing airplanes very close together.

Enter GPS.

There are 24 GPS satellites that can be used for navigation with any properly equipped car, boat, airplane, cell phone or even wristwatch. While GPS is highly accurate, it too has limitations that make it precarious to use for airplane separation without some additional help. So the FAA sent up two satellites, which they called Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). The WAAS correction signal makes the GPS highly accurate – to within about three meters, or 10 feet.

All new SID departures use GPS, and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt is shooting for the total conversion from radar to NextGen nationwide to be completed by 2020. So the FAA procedure designers in Oklahoma City are hard at it to design, develop and implement this new method of navigation – which is called RNAV – for Random Navigation.

JWA has two primary departure paths for airliners – if they are headed for the Northwest or the Bay Area, the navigation chart follows the Back Bay, then to Catalina Island and a right turn towards LAX. Flights heading east, southeast and northeast cross the shoreline then arc to the left to several charted waypoints downcoast, and then fly to Thermal – a navigation radio beacon just north of the Salton Sea. It is these flights which were causing the problem.

All large airliners using JWA are equipped to view the RNAV routes on their aircraft navigation instruments. The original JWA SID is called the MUSEL6 (still in use today for eastbound non-RNAV airplanes) and utilizes ground based navigation aids to get the airplane to the MUSEL waypoint, which is about seven miles offshore from the Balboa Peninsula, and from there to Thermal. This route was great at mitigating noise as by the time the airplane crossed MUSEL and turned eastbound, it was high enough to cross the shoreline virtually unnoticed.

The original DUUKE1 procedure (in use from Oct. 22, 2009 to Apr. 8, 2010) contained a confusing note on the navigation chart that had pilots starting their turn at 540 feet above runway elevation, placing them directly over Eastbluff. The subsequent uproar (no pun intended) migrated to the Eastbluff Homeowners Association, which naturally advanced their concerns to their councilmember, Leslie Daigle. Here, a little of bit of luck came in, as Daigle is also the chair of Newport Beach’s Airport Committee, which is composed of three City Council members and 14 residents who monitor aviation issues.

That group, which meets monthly, addressed the issue and brought it to the attention of the JWA Noise Office, headed up by Eric Freed. As it turns out, the FAA was already aware of the chart error and issued a correction, and then a new amended SID, called the DUUKE2 (effective April 8, 2010), which corrected the turning error.

But that didn’t completely halt the overflights. The DUUKE2 fixed the DUUKE1 but there were still deficiencies. Due to the enormous support of Daigle, City Manager Dave Kiff and Freed, a meeting was held with the FAA to get the noise footprint repaired.

The result is the new STREL1 departure procedure.

To understand the enormity of their efforts, keep in mind that FAA Oklahoma City is furiously attempting to meet the NextGen 2020 target by completely revising every instrument procedure – departure, arrival and approach - for each airport in the United States – about 16,000 charts in all. So after all of the work already put in to produce a single new SID for JWA, we were asking for a massive change!

And the FAA, to its credit, responded admirably.

There were a number of backroom players. Freed engaged the services of Vince Mestre who is a noise consultant of international reputation, and Tom Naughton, a Newport Beach resident and JWA Working Group member, who then engaged Georgia Tech’s Research Institute which specializes in air traffic control operations, to assist in the design of the new departure.

But while the STREL1 fixed the path from the departure end of the runway out to the shoreline, a new beast reared its head.

This is kind of technical, so bear with us.

The aviation community (pilots and controllers) consider the entire JWA noise abatement procedure completed after passing the Balboa shoreline. Passengers are all familiar with the powerback after takeoff ,and it’s after the shoreline is crossed that climb thrust is re-established.

And instead of following the charted route hitting the several waypoints spaced over a wide left arc, immediately after passing the shoreline, either ATC controllers will initiate or the pilots will ask for a free left turn to head toward the final waypoint and then on to Thermal. The resulting turn brings the plane back over land before it reaches an altitude high enough to be unnoticed. Depending on the skills of the pilot, it can put the airplane anywhere from over Cameo Highlands and Cameo Shores in eastern CdM to Irvine Cove/Emerald Bay at the west end of Laguna Beach. More often that not, the flight path is over Newport Coast Drive. Further adding insult to injury – the airplane climb rate approximates the ascending angle of Newport Coast Drive keeping the airplane equidistant from terrain until it clears Signal Hill.

So what’s being done? The Newport Coast/ Crystal Cove community had a meeting with the FAA in early February to advise them of the situation. What comes of that, only time will tell. Roger Ham, a former Deputy Chief of the LAPD, and Dan Rabun, an engineer, Newport Coast and Crystal Cove residents, are heading up a coalition of homeowners associations to get their support going forward.

Bob Pastore, a 41-year resident of Corona del Mar, is a former pilot and member of the board of directors of TWA. He has taught aeronautical charting for 40 years and been a consultant to the FAA on air traffic control procedures.
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