The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has added another arrow to its quiver in its ongoing campaign to limit residential and commercial development in even the remotest vicinity of airports. In late April, FAA originally published a “Proposal to Consider the Impact of One Engine Inoperative Procedures in Obstruction Evaluation Aeronautical Studies” (“Proposal”) which seeks to supplement existing procedures for analyzing the obstruction impact of new structures or modifications to existing structures on aircraft operations within certain distances around airports (see 14 C.F.R. Part 77), with consideration of the impact of structures on one engine inoperative (“OEI”) emergency procedures. OEI procedures are not currently included in FAA’s obstruction regulations which advise local land use jurisdictions on appropriate limits to building heights within specified geographic zones around airports to accommodate the takeoff and landing clearance needed by aircraft with their full complement of operating engines. From an aeronautical perspective, FAA’s initiative sounds desirable and long overdue, even though the occurrence of engine loss is rare. From the perspective of local jurisdictions, landowners and developers, however, the proposal is anathema, potentially leading to dramatically lower allowable building heights and concomitantly reduced property values, even far from the airport.
Responding to the concerns of pilots and the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) regarding the impact of exhaust plumes from power plants on overflying aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) Airport Obstruction Standard Committee (“AOSC”) completed a Supplement to FAA’s 2006 guidance [“Safety Risk Analysis of Aircraft Overflight of Industrial Exhaust Plumes”]. The purpose of the Supplement is to enhance current FAA regulations which only address standards for the physical height of the smoke stacks, and omit regulation of the impacts of the smoke plume emitted from the stacks, or the emissions contained in them.
The Supplement is also aimed at obtaining definitive answers to the questions: (1) how much turbulence is created by exhaust plumes; (2) is this turbulence great enough to cause loss of pilot control; (3) if so, what size aircraft are impacted; (4) is there a lack of oxygen causing loss of engine power or danger to pilots/passengers; and, if so, (5) what is the harm to those pilots and passengers?
For two years, from 2008 to 2010, the AOSC conducted a Plume Report Study, which was ultimately determined to need further verification and validation. In 2011, FAA retained the Federally funded Research and Development Center, operated by Mitre Corporation to answer the questions specified in the earlier Plume Report. The Mitre Study was completed in September 2012 and verified both FAA’s model and what the earlier FAA reports and studies had concluded.