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Flight improvements over Beach questioned

December 4, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A member of the Fort Myers Beach Air Intrusion Relief group provided an updated report on recommendations regarding a Federal Aviation Administration flight tracking system on Monday afternoon.

Beach resident Tom Babcock gave a power-point presentation after recently collecting data and information about the over-flight status of Estero Island. He shared that report and his opinions to the Fort Myers Beach Town Council at a workshop at Town Hall.

It has been 10 months since Federal Aviation Regulation Part 150 Noise Study recommendations at Southwest International Airport were approved by Lee County Board of Port Commissioners and forwarded to FAA for comment and approval. Recommendations include keeping aircraft at or above 3,000 feet over Estero Island, maximizing routing of aircraft over uninhabited Estero Bay rather than the island, establishing Runway 24 as the preferred runway from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to route aircraft away from the island, increasing altitude for early morning arrivals and promoting use of RNAV optimized descent approach to Runway 6 to reduce noise and improve aircraft efficiency.

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Beach resident Tom Babcock explains the over-flight status of Fort Myers Beach during a workshop at Town Hall Monday.

"Looking at all this data, we have way too many aircraft coming over Estero Island," said Babcock. "There are things that can be done now that can improve that."

Since March 2013, a flight tracking system has been operational and progress monitored. Data was collected for certain periods since March and observations were noted. The procedures are on a voluntary basis until the FAA gives final approval.

Most of the flight disturbances over Estero Island have been reported to happen either late night or early morning. The two runways are essentially the same airstrip with Runway 24 known as the passageway from the east and Runway 6 as the passageway from the west.

"The P150 recommendation to reduce the number of over-flights at night and early morning over Estero Island by making Runway 24 the preferred runway from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. is not happening," said Babcock. "Data for October 2013 shows that Runway 24 was the preferred runway only 10 percent of the time, as required by wind direction and velocity. Runway 24 could have been used 58 percent of the time. There is absolutely no reason they shouldn't be coming over the Back Bay instead of over the island."

The former councilman stated there is a railroad track coming over the entire island, specifically over a half-mile section at mid-island. The flight status report states "aircraft fly over Estero Island approximately 72 percent of the time" on average with 44 percent of those flights "over a one-half mile wide path" in the center of the island.

Babcock also reported arriving aircraft between 10 p.m. and midnight are flying over the Beach 41 percent of the time, while Runway 24 was never used for early morning FedEx and UPS arrivals in October or early November 2013.

"If Runway 24 does become the preferred runway orientation at night, as recommended by P150, the time should be extended to 7 a.m. to include UPS arrivals as well as FedEx," he said.

Some observations show that while more aircraft are flying at or above 3,000 feet over the Beach, roughly 1/3 of aircraft still fly below 3,000 feet with four percent flying below 2,000 feet.

"Aircraft flying over Estero Island between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 p.m. are considerably louder than the 45 decibels that disrupts sleep," said Babcock. "The P150 recommendations to increase the altitude of early morning aircraft arrivals is not being followed. In November 2013, FedEx arrivals over Estero Island were under 3,000 feet 63 percent of the time and as low as 1,500 feet. There is no reason for aircraft to be as low as 1,500 feet."

Back in August, Lee County Port Authority was reported to have implemented a Federal Aviation Administration plan to reduce late night aircraft from flying over Estero Island. The procedure, inserted Aug. 1, should have aided in avoiding loud aircraft noise events over noise sensitive areas along Fort Myers Beach during nighttime hours.

The incoming flights to Southwest Florida International Airport between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. utilizing Runway 24 instead of Runway 6 was planned to allow the flights coming down the middle of the state to go over Lehigh Acres and avoid the Beach altogether as well as flights coming down the coast to pass just south of the Beach and into the local airport.

But Babcock's observation notes state the proposed new route that uses a SHFTY (middle of state incoming flights) approach over the island from the south continues to have limited usage (less than 5% of time), while the existing approach (TYNEE) from the north shows the percentage of aircraft flying over Estero Bay about 23 percent of the time.

In August, LCPA consultant and Environmental Sciences Associates Airports employee Mike Arnold pointed out the cost savings regarding the "SHFTY TWO" path.

"They are saving about 15 miles in travel distance each time," he said then. "It provides considerable fuel savings and gets them on the ground quicker. From an air traffic standpoint, there is less handling of those aircraft. It creates a better overall operational environment."

Air traffic controllers are encouraged to implement as many recommendation procedures affecting Estero Island as possible. With more tourists arriving in Southwest Florida via airplanes, one can expect a significant increase in Runway 6 arrivals if nothing dramatically happens.

"Data will be collected during peak season that usually runs from January through March in order to better establish trends," said Babcock. "Even if percentage performance of aircraft arriving on Runway 6 remains constant, a greater number of aircraft will be flying over Estero Island during season. This historical data will show if performance changes when Part 150 FAA-approved recommendations are fully implemented."

Prior to the workshop, Council stated a letter would be sent to the FAA and local representatives to show approval of the P150 recommendations. During FAA reviewal in Washington, D.C., public comment will be taken until Dec. 20. Beach residents who have an opinion can write to Allan Nagy, 5950 Hazeltine National Drive, Orlando, FL 32822.

Beach Mayor Alan Mandel said he is hoping for a meeting with local officials at Southwest International Airport in mid-January and expects an FAA decision soon after.

"We are thinking that we may get an answer in February or March," he said. "It's important we maintain a good working relationship with officials at the airport because it is voluntary at this point, and we want to encourage them to do more and more. I hope eventually this will become more rule than discretion."



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