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Changes to Tampa Bay area jet routes wouldn’t worsen noise, study says

The Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed changes include shifting some outbound flights above 10,000 feet from over mid-Pinellas to over north Pinellas.
Airplanes are pictured on the tarmac as a Southwest plane takes off behind them at Tampa International Airport on May 7. The Federal Aviation Administration is considering changes to the routes over North Pinellas that westbound flights take after they leave the airport.
Airplanes are pictured on the tarmac as a Southwest plane takes off behind them at Tampa International Airport on May 7. The Federal Aviation Administration is considering changes to the routes over North Pinellas that westbound flights take after they leave the airport. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 1, 2020
Updated Jun. 1, 2020

TAMPA — A proposed update of flight paths to and from the Tampa Bay area’s two major airports would not create any significant noise impacts, a federal environmental analysis concludes.

The analysis, still in its draft form, looked at changes the Federal Aviation Administration is considering making as part of a project known as the Florida Metroplex.

The agency is working to update flight paths and procedures as part of a nationwide move toward the use of GPS technology and satellite-aided air traffic control to reduce congestion and complexity around busy airports, as well as enhance safety and save fuel.

Related: Federal aviation agency studying Tampa Bay area air routes

Federal Aviation Administration officials say they have no plans to make changes to jet operations below 10,000 feet, where noise would get noticeable.

“We’re making changes at the higher altitudes that get you in and out of the Tampa area,” Michael O’Harra, the Federal Aviation Administration’s southern regional administrator in Atlanta, said Monday. Those changes “end at a higher altitude, and then planes continue along the routes that they have today.”

Above 10,000 feet, the agency is looking to make one change over Pinellas County.

Currently, westbound flights that take off from Tampa International Airport take a turn to the southwest and fly a path above 10,000 feet over Safety Harbor, then Clearwater, Largo and Indian Shores before heading out over the Gulf of Mexico.

As proposed, those flights would instead turn more due west and fly over an area that includes Dunedin, Oldsmar, East Lake, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs.

This Federal Aviation Administration map shows proposed air routes above 10,000 feet for passenger jets that take off from Tampa International Airport and are headed west into the Gulf of Mexico. Currently those jets make a turn that's more southwest that takes them over Safety Harbor, Clearwater, Largo and Indian Shores. The proposed path would put them more over Dunedin, Oldsmar, East Lake, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. Officials say that that point the jets would be high enough to limit noise impacts.
This Federal Aviation Administration map shows proposed air routes above 10,000 feet for passenger jets that take off from Tampa International Airport and are headed west into the Gulf of Mexico. Currently those jets make a turn that's more southwest that takes them over Safety Harbor, Clearwater, Largo and Indian Shores. The proposed path would put them more over Dunedin, Oldsmar, East Lake, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. Officials say that that point the jets would be high enough to limit noise impacts. [ Federal Aviation Administration ]

Making that change, officials said, would help keep westbound departing flights away from other flights that are headed toward Tampa or other coastal airports.

Officials and stakeholders with Tampa International and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport emphasized to federal officials that they did not want changes to flight paths below 10,000 feet.

Related: St. Pete-Clearwater airport to switch runways during repaving, creating more noise for some mid-Pinellas communities

“We’ve really made that effort in collaboration with the airports to ensure that we minimize any impacts,” said Jim Arrighi, a Federal Aviation Administration metroplex program manager based in Washington D.C. “Changes below 10,000 feet was not one of those things that we pursued.”

This Federal Aviation Administration map shows current noise impacts for areas around the bay area's two primary airports. The dots represent levels of noise:
Gray: Under 45 decibels.
Dark green: 45 to 50 decibels.
Green: 50 to 55 decibels.
Light green: 55 to 60 decibels.
Yellow: 60 to 65 decibels.
This Federal Aviation Administration map shows current noise impacts for areas around the bay area's two primary airports. The dots represent levels of noise: Gray: Under 45 decibels. Dark green: 45 to 50 decibels. Green: 50 to 55 decibels. Light green: 55 to 60 decibels. Yellow: 60 to 65 decibels. [ Federal Aviation Administration ]

If approved, the changes would take place between spring and fall of next year.

First, however, Tampa Bay area residents have until July 10 to review and send in written comments on the plans and environmental assessment.

The Federal Aviation Administration will hold two online workshops at 6 p.m. Thursday and noon Friday to give Tampa Bay area residents a chance to learn more and ask questions. Residents can sign up to participate in the workshops at floridametroplexworkshops.com.

To see the draft environmental assessment, go to metroplexenvironmental.com/docs/fl_metroplex/A_FL_Metroplex_DEA_Ch1-5.pdf. For more information on submitting comments, go to faa.gov/air_traffic/community_involvement/florida.