FAA Targets Takeoff Hazards

While my objections to Mayor Jim Lane and the Scottsdale City Council majority approving high-density housing projects in the vicinity of Scottsdale Airport are more related to the long-term viability of the airport because of noise complaints, an astute ScottsdaleTrails reader pointed out this article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday relating to tall buildings and airports.

FAA Targets Takeoff Hazards Near Runways

By Andy Pasztor and Jon Kamp, The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2014 7:40 p.m. ET

FAA’s proposal calls for focus on new buildings or other obstacles near busy runways—in the rare event an aircraft loses an engine at takeoff.

Federal regulators are paying more attention to potential hazards posed by new buildings or other obstacles near busy runways, in the event aircraft lose an engine during takeoffs.

A proposed Federal Aviation Administration policy change for the first time explicitly calls for identifying such possible dangers—stemming from a malfunctioning or inoperative engine—when reviewing the height and location of construction projects near hub airports.

The document released Friday also sets procedures for airlines, airport operators and developers to jointly design a single alternate flight path for each runway that would be used by all carriers at large and small airports, in case of an engine-out takeoff.

Historically, FAA’s policy has considered potentially hazardous obstacles only under normal aircraft operations. The agency typically requires each airline to determine individual fight paths to skirt or avoid obstacles at the end of runways if an engine should quit. Talk of changes has prompted years of controversy about the extent of proposed development around major hub airports including those serving New York, Miami and Chicago, as well as smaller fields serving Washington, D.C., and other cities.

Some prominent developers and lawmakers oppose the shift as a major reversal of long-standing FAA policy, according to one industry official familiar with the details. Potentially thousands of proposed buildings face tighter height limitations, the official said Sunday, threatening a big financial blow to certain local communities.

The issue has prompted high-level deliberations inside the FAA and the Transportation Department since at least 2012, with lawyers for some large real-estate developers arguing that FAA officials were overstepping their authority by seeking to impose more stringent height restrictions without a formal rule-making process.

Aircraft that experience engine problems climb more slowly and usually require more airspace to clear obstacles.

For airlines, the current policy sometimes translates into voluntarily cutting back on passengers or cargo, or reducing total fuel loads, in order to provide a margin of safety when departing specific runways. The FAA hasn’t factored in the economic costs of such steps, including greater fuel burn to fly around obstacles and reductions in airport capacity.

Now, the agency said it wants to consider “a broader definition of capacity when evaluating new obstacles.” The proposal, among other things, highlights how construction of everything from high-rise structures to microwave towers to windmills is encroaching on airspace near many airports. With today’s jetliners, it is rare to lose thrust from an engine at the instant of liftoff or shortly afterward, but such an emergency can swiftly become catastrophic unless it’s handled correctly.

The revised policy already has been used in Boston, Las Vegas, Phoenix and other busy airports, and the FAA hopes to expand it nationwide. Flight paths are often an important consideration for property development in Boston, for instance, where Logan International Airport sits across the harbor from the city’s downtown financial district. Buildings also are mushrooming along South Boston waterfront land, where heights are tightly restricted due to proximity to Logan airport.

In conjunction with the FAA, airlines and Boston’s urban planning agency, Logan officials in 2008 produced a map indicating height limits that took into account one engine-out scenarios. The map doesn’t remove the need for regulatory requirements, but developers have followed its guidance, said Flavio Leo, deputy director of aviation planning and strategy for the Massachusetts Port Authority, or Massport. “We wanted developers to know what the impacts would be if they came in with very tall structures near the airport,” Mr. Leo said, because without early clarity, many “would wait until the very end to go for the FAA permit.”

The FAA is asking for public comment by the end of June, and then is likely to take at least several months to decide on the final language.

Boeing Co. BA +0.50% officials last year said there wasn’t a single instance of an engine on a wide-body 777 model quitting exactly on takeoff, over the course of several million 777 departures around the globe. Commercial pilots, however, still train regularly to cope with such emergencies. In the U.S. and many other countries, pilots many have to demonstrate proficiency roughly once a year, or sometimes more frequently, by conducting a takeoff in a simulator with one engine not working.

Takeoffs from airports situated in hot and high areas, or planes carrying heavy loads, can be particularly challenging if an engine fails.

In releasing the proposal, the FAA said it “provides a practical solution for airports, airlines and local communities,” including real-estate developers, to ensure “a safe and obstruction-free takeoff route” while protecting airport efficiency and capacity.

Critics, however, contend the proposal won’t enhance safety but could adversely affect the economics of existing and future buildings scattered around more than 380 airports across the U.S.

Instead of individual airlines continuing to tailor emergency takeoff routes to safely clear surrounding buildings, according to the industry official, the FAA instead wants developers to tailor their buildings to suit the wide array of emergency procedures developed by airlines.

Since the 1970s, according to the FAA, increased economic activity and construction around airports have created “an ever increasing risk.” But continuing to allow individual airlines to draft multiple engine-out procedures and flightpaths would lead to greater confusion and lack of uniformity, according to the agency.

Before finalizing the policy, the FAA pledged to “identify and appropriately address any disproportionately high and adverse impacts on minority and low income populations.”

Write to Andy Pasztor at andy.pasztor@wsj.com and Jon Kamp at jon.kamp@wsj.com

You may also like


  1. Gee, now Korte will ask for a working session on shutting down the airport so we can build higher apartment buildings.

  2. Seems like common sense not to build high rise near airport but then the city council does not seems to have much of that of late..

  3. I see, the $8.5M Park and Ride to Nowhere south of the runway is really an emergency landing strip?

    No problem with hitting any cars….there are no cars… but the metal sun shades might pose a navigation problem for a crash landing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *