Letter to Residents Regarding John Wayne Airport

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An update on airport issues from City Manager Dave Kiff

January 23, 2018

Dear Residents of Newport Beach:

We at the City of Newport Beach (City) wanted to give you a more formal update on Airport Issues following the recent announcement of a tentative agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over several issues upon which the City litigated. Additionally, Council Member Jeff Herdman asked me, as City Manager, to summarize some of the City’s other recent activity involving John Wayne Airport (JWA). Bear with me, as usual – I will try to be somewhat concise but this is a very complex subject as many people know.

Before going further, remember that Newport Beach is merely adjacent to JWA. We don’t own the airport, we don’t operate it, and it’s not in our city limits. The County of Orange operates the airport while planes are on the ground, and the FAA takes over when planes take off.

About four years ago, the FAA announced a nationwide effort called “NextGen”. NextGen’s goal was to improve safety and efficiency by in large part narrowing arrival and departure corridors along more specific, satellite-based routes. In October 2016, the City sued the FAA over the environmental document (called an Environmental Assessment or “EA”) associated with NextGen’s implementation at JWA. The FAA’s assessment looked at over 20 airports in our region including JWA. The FAA called this regional look the “Southern California Metroplex.” Now that you know that, please read on.

Departure PATHS. To me, a departure path is the geographic route that planes fly – i.e., where planes fly, versus how they fly over us. As you will read next, our FAA litigation primarily involved where planes fly. Just as a reminder, currently (in January 2018), ALL commercial departures from JWA are flying a defined and specific “one-turn” route down the Upper Bay then over Back Bay View Park. Back in March 2017, we observed that the new route appeared to take some planes too far to the east – as a result, the FAA has made multiple but subtle adjustments to this route. Following the FAA’s last adjustment to these departure paths in early December 2017, the final few destination routes (the ones headed to Las Vegas or Salt Lake City) were shifted slightly to the west.

What was the FAA Litigation About? Our lawsuit was about the adequacy of the FAA’s Environmental Assessment that analyzed the impacts of the FAA’s NextGen program over Newport Beach (and many other airport areas). The key reason the City Council sued was because the EA appeared to show that the FAA could design routes that strayed far outside the traditional departure patterns of the Upper Bay. One key diagram (Diagram A) in the EA itself showed a range of possible departure paths that could have been all over the community.

Diagram A - Possible Locations of Departure Route Cleared in the EA: Late East Turn, Maintain RWY Centerline, Middle of Corridor, Early East Turn  

The City’s settlement agreement with the FAA will affect Departure Paths as follows:

  • Prohibit the use of the EA to modify existing or to design future flight paths. 
  • Emphasize the importance of closely following the traditional historic flight paths along the Upper Bay. 
  • Ensure that the Metroplex will not preempt or jeopardize the continued successful operation of the 1985 JWA Settlement Agreement and its many protections. 
  • Implement and test a new “Required Navigational Performance (RNP)” departure procedure for the Upper Bay consisting of two turns, not just one. It’s called the STAYY (Diagram B) and would attempt to remain within the natural contours of the Upper Bay and curve as the bay curves, avoiding as many residential areas as possible.

 Diagram B - Altitude reports will be included in the quarterly report on the following waypoints: BIKKL, PAPAU/NM7, LRREN

Residents have asked me, “did the litigation solve all of our concerns?” Not entirely. There is more work to be done. The litigation was essential and very important in the long-term protection of our community from future actions regarding departure paths, but even with its settlement, we think we need to improve departure procedures so that air carriers are using the best procedures for noise and pollution reduction in our community.

Departure PROCEDURES. This is how the planes fly on a geographic route or path. Recall that two different noise-abatement departure procedures (NADPs) are approved nationwide. Both were designed with carriers and the FAA and airports (including JWA) back in 1991. However, these provide general guidance to the carriers. Ultimately, airlines develop their own procedures according to their operational specifications for each individual aircraft. This is especially true at JWA because airlines have to adhere to the single event noise restrictions.

One of the procedures – NADP-1 - is also called the “Close-In” departure. This one is the one we know the best, and feels like you’re going up higher, faster, then leveling off ‘til the coastline. This was very commonly used at JWA. The other – NADP-2 – is called the “Distant” departure, and has a gentler climb – it is far more commonly used at other airports. In 2008, when this was last studied, our consultant told us that all JWA carriers were using some variation of NADP-1 (see page III-8 of that linked document). But a more recent analysis by the County of Orange reported that some major carriers – like United and American – had transitioned to NADP-2. Carriers can do this, because they can still meet the required noise standards out of JWA. It is the carriers’ choice to determine which NADP they use.

While we think NADP-1 is better for the community, we need data and analysis to prove it. The Council authorized more work in this regard in 2017, and we’re gearing up to get it going. It likely will take four to six months to complete.

  • Deliverable here: A way to approach the carriers with good science and data about what the quietest departure procedure is – could be NADP-1 or something totally new. Please know, though, that air carriers cannot be compelled or directed to use one NADP versus another, but we hope that they can be convinced to do so.  

Temporary Noise Monitoring. Members of the community asked us to “monitor the monitors” by setting up new temporary stations nearby Noise Monitoring Stations #5 (near the Back Bay sort of close to Eastbluff Elementary) and #6 (Santiago Drive on the Bay’s west side). View the map of the existing regulatory stations. We completed some of this in mid-December – those results are not yet with me. Other monitoring occurred in January, on Balboa Island and in Dover Shores. I did not tell many about the specific dates, as I did not want to tip the air carriers or the airport off about when this would occur. I noted at one of our “Friday Forums” that I would release this data to the public when it’s presented in report form.

  • Deliverable here: new noise data.

Long-Term Noise Monitoring. The City is likely to consider adding a permanent (but non-regulatory) noise monitoring station on or near Balboa Island. This would add to our knowledge of power-ups past Noise Monitoring Station #7, and could possibly help us work with air carriers to get carriers to fly more quietly once they pass the last regulatory noise monitor (that’s at Newport Dunes). This item may be included in the Capital Improvement Program for Fiscal Year 2018-19, which the Council will start to consider very soon.

  • Deliverable here: maybe a new NMS on or near Balboa Island.

Communicating with the Air Carriers. Many residents have expressed personal and thoughtful concerns directly to the major air carriers about noise. The major carriers out of JWA (in order of most flights/day, generally) are Southwest, American, United, Alaska, Delta, and Frontier. Residents asked the carriers to please:

  • Consider using NADP-1 if you’re using NADP-2, if doing so results in less noise.
  • Consider using some of the newest, less polluting, and quietest planes in your fleets that are assigned to JWA routes (the Boeing 737-MAX and the Airbus 320neo)
  • Do not apply additional power after Newport Dunes (NMS #7) until the plane is over the ocean.
  • Consider training your pilots so that they can fly the STAYY procedure once it is made available (likely to be Feb 2018).

We will bring on a local firm that might assist the City and our residents in these communications. We recently issued a request for qualifications, and about eight firms responded. We expect a selection decision before the end of January.

  • Deliverable here: hiring a communication and strategy firm to help.

More about the Boeing 737-MAX. Frontier Airlines already flies at least one Airbus 320neo out of JWA daily, and it has a lower noise footprint than some other planes. We’ve been waiting to see how Boeing’s new plane does as well, and we are starting to find out. Southwest has used its new Boeing 737-MAX at JWA, although it’s not regularly routed here. A SW flight to Phoenix on Christmas Eve was flown with a MAX, and the noise results, when compared to a similarly-weighted Boeing 737-800, was pretty impressive. As you look at the below chart, know that the human ear can generally detect a noise difference of >3 dB.

Boeing 737-MAS at JWA Chart 

Federal Advocacy. We brought on an advocate in Washington DC to both work with national air carrier groups and specific carriers, as well as with the FAA to help us in our efforts to have planes depart in a quieter manner.

  • Deliverable here: hopefully good relationships with air carriers and others to help us solve problems locally.

Friday Forums. We continue to host our Friday Forums to help us all learn more about airport operations and issues, and to collaborate as a community on strategies to protect against noise and other impacts. Anyone is welcome. We meet from 3 p.m. to about 4:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at the Civic Center. More forums are coming up, three of which involve presentations by the County of Orange (as operator of the Airport) covering issues like how noise is monitored and reported, allocations of “slots” (i.e., what carrier gets to fly out of JWA using what planes) and the 1985 JWA Settlement Agreement. The next forum is coming up on Friday, January 26 (at 3 p.m. in the Council Chambers – the subject is Noise 101) with others to follow on (tentatively) Friday, February 9 and Friday, March 9.

  • Deliverable here: a better understanding for all of us.

If you have any questions about the above, please do not hesitate to ask. Thank you for taking the time to read this and to learn more about airport issues.

Sincerely,

Dave Kiff
City Manager
949-644-3001 or dkiff@newportbeachca.gov

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