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The Valley’s Flying Circus

PERSPECTIVE--Krekorian, Koretz and Ryu: The Flying Circus caucus of the Burbank Airport Noise Task Force. Never confuse them with the Wright brothers or Chuck Yeager.

I apologize for being flippant, but after attending all but the first Noise Task Force meetings at the Burbank Airport Marriott and observing their biased behavior, it’s only fair. Let’s not forget – Ryu and Krekorian endorsed moving flight paths north even before the public hearings began. Koretz has openly expressed his support of the move over the course of the meetings.

The three council members have pandered to their constituents aligned with two major advocacy groups from Studio City and South Sherman Oaks – UpRoarLA and Studio City for Quiet Skies. These groups are demanding that departures from Burbank and Van Nuys Airports avoid their neighborhoods and, instead, fan out north of the 101. In their minds, the noise and pollution do not belong in their neighborhoods but are OK for others.

Krekorian seems to think CD2 does not extend north of the 101. He has not made any effort to reach out to that part of his district, the area which would be adversely impacted if the flight paths are redirected that way. Those neighborhoods are denser and cover more ground than those closer to Ventura Boulevard. Many more people would be subjected to noise.

The testimony of Captain Gary McMullin, a Southwest Airlines pilot who knows the skies above the region like the back of his hand, stripped the veneer from the specious alternatives proposed by UpRoarLA and Studio City for Quiet Skies. The two groups back Operation Twist, an ill-conceived idea proffered by Dan Feger that would have planes turning sharply after take-off and hugging the 101, then turning north. Feger is a retired career business administrator for the airport – neither a pilot nor air traffic controller.

McMullin’s analysis was derived using information from FOQA (Flight Operations Quality Assurance). It is a program that crunches raw flight data through a series of algorithms designed to detect potential threats to safety. It is the gold standard crash investigators use to determine cause.

Almost everyone agrees departures have generally shifted south by one-third of a mile over the last two years. The reasons often cited are atmospheric conditions, plane loads or efficiency. Some of the hillside residents are accusing the FAA of authorizing the movement.

According to the FAA, the complex and extensive nature of Southern California airspace, which covers an area from San Diego to Point Magu, the Inland Empire, Palmdale and the San Bernardino Mountains, makes it difficult to analyze changes.

Making adjustments to it is much like squeezing a balloon. Increased pressure on one side forces expansion on another. On any given day, one problem could set off a chain reaction effect through the system. No one should expect consistency.

Captain McMullins offered valuable technical insight, including what I think could shed light on why there has been a shift. Pilots must wait for tower clearance before they can turn north from their standard heading, a critical procedure because turning too soon could cause their planes to stray into arrival paths over the Sherman Way/Roscoe corridor. Radio communication has not changed much over the years. One controller can only converse with one pilot at a time.

It is possible, then, given that air traffic volume has increased by around 25% over the past two years, tower personnel cannot clear as many turns in a given amount of time. This does not represent a safety hazard, as strict procedures guide how the pilots fly, but could impact efficiency. Planes may have to fly farther south to ensure they do not cross the 101 prematurely.

Clearly, then, to perform a maneuver like Fager’s Operation Twist, would endanger those who live in the North Valley.

McMullins also addressed the fleet mix. All the major airlines are flying the most advanced planes, all of them quieter than previous versions. The engine power is also automatically controlled to attain the maximum climbing rate. Not all private or corporate jets have the latest technology.

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Taking off to the north and east from Burbank is not desirable because of the higher terrain. It should only be done under certain conditions – i.e., wind direction. Although departing planes should technically be able to clear the mountains, if an engine is lost, that may not be possible.

The FAA presented a 3-D analysis of arrivals and departures to/from Van Nuys and Burbank Airports. This clearly displayed the interrelationships of altitude, position and paths over a sample period of time, especially the dynamics of alternating departures and arrivals. It had the appearance of an aerial square dance, with clusters spinning in choreographed unison.

Some in the crowd heckled the presenters; others waved signs with the word “Lie” written on them. Aviation professionals all, I’m sure.

Any rational person couldn’t come away without appreciating the complexity of the system and the difficulties in managing it.

During the Q&A between the task force members and the presenters, Council Member Koretz told the FAA, “You fixed something that wasn’t broken.” He was referring to the .33-mile southerly shift. He is obviously assuming it was an orchestrated change without considering possible pilot/tower communication timing and other factors referred to earlier.

Is there an interim resolution?

I doubt it. If no one can definitively conclude how the shift occurred to begin with, the chances are slim an operational procedure can be developed to undo it.

One thing is for sure, the members of the Task Force and the two advocacy groups lack the background to offer or assess proposed solutions.

A panel comprised of aviation experts who understand the technology and science of flight should replace the existing one. They can report to an independent board, one free of local politics.

The objective of the FAA with respect to NextGen is to make the skies safer. But there will often be tradeoffs. Quality of life must be respected as much as possible on both sides of the Valley, but that’s not being encouraged by certain members of the panel.

  • Link to task force meeting:


    Scroll down the bar to items 5a and 5b. 5b is the pilot’s testimony.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.)

-cw