Lee County Port Authority has implemented a Federal Aviation Administration plan to reduce late night aircraft from flying over Estero Island. This procedure, inserted Aug. 1, will aid in avoiding loud aircraft noise events over noise sensitive areas along Fort Myers Beach during nighttime hours.
The cooperative effort involves incoming flights to Southwest Florida International Airport between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. utilizing Runway 24 instead of Runway 6. It allows 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.
This makes Runway 24 the preferred arrival direction to the southwest rather than northeast during the night time hours. It limits nighttime flights over the Beach and publishes Charted Visual Approach to Runway 6 from the north and south when weather conditions permit. Runway 24 is the other end of Runway 6.
COURTESY OF ESA AIRPORTS
Shifts in flight runways have allowed incoming flights from the center of the state and over the coastline to avoid traversing over Fort Myers Beach when weather conditions apply.
"By shifting from Runway 6 to Runway 24, those aircraft will come down and transition right into the runway through the Lehigh Acres area rather than passing all the way around the south of the airport to the west and back into the airport," said LCPA consultant and Environmental Sciences Associates Airports employee Mike Arnold. "The aircraft coming down the coast will pass to the south of Fort Myers Beach."
Arnold stated that roughly 90 percent of the arriving flights occur during 10 p.m. and midnight. Sixty percent of those come down the middle of the state.
This implementation evolved from proposed measures and recommendations during an operational evaluation under the RSW Federal Aviation Regulation Part 150 study. Public input and discussions with Town officials aided in the process.
"The airport has been working with the tower, and the tower has been willing to implement a number of the measures in advance of the formal determinations of the Part 150 study," said Arnold. "So, basically, as the study goes through the formal approval process, they are already trying to get some things in place to provide some relief to those communities right now."
LCPA Project Coordinator Chad Rosenstein stated that the new late night flight paths will only be used when weather conditions allow. When the tower reopens at 6 a.m., Runway 6 is utilized at that point.
"If wind conditions are calm or favor Runway 24, then they will use that runway," he said. "It's easier and quicker for aircraft to land on Runway 24 if they are coming down the middle of the state. It saves time, fuel and is more efficient."
Arnold also pointed out the cost savings regarding the "SHFTY TWO" (middle of state incoming flights) path.
"They are saving about 15 miles in travel distance each time," he said. "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."
This comes less than two months after certain airline companies voluntarily applied consultant recommendations to keep incoming aircraft at or above 3,000 feet over Estero Island and try different flight patterns over the Back Bay instead of incorporating arrival procedures over the island.
In July, Beach Mayor Alan Mandel and Town Manager Terry Stewart met with local port authority and FAA officials at the airport and discovered that certain airline companies were voluntary applying the recommendations. Mandel had requested a meeting with airport officials after listening to public comment at a previous Council meeting and receiving phone calls from concerned residents questioning the progress of the Federal Aviation Regulation Part 150 study.
"It's a win-win, because it means less noise for people who live on the island and the airline saves money," said Mandel. "It's another step in improvements that the Port Authority has been discussing with us."
The local Board of Port Commissioners held a public hearing about the proposed recommendations back in January. After approval, the recommendations were sent to the FAA's regional office in Atlanta and reviewed. Upon reviewal completion, the document will be sent to the FAA's national office in Washington D.C. for yet another reviewal.
"The FAA corporate headquarters issues their final determination on the noise study. That could take another six months," said Rosenstein back in July.
"They're implementing some of the things they have in there already," added Mandel. "This is just another good example of the Lee County Port Authority in conjunction with people in the FAA tower working with the Town. I think that's a very positive step. Of course, safety is always the first concern."