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Tensions take off over the FAA’s proposed changes to Point Loma flight paths

PLNU continues to protest proposed changes to the flight paths of planes leaving the San Diego International Airport. Point Loma residents and school officials have become increasingly unhappy with the FAA’s plan to reroute planes over the Point Loma area.

On October 2, Joe Watkins, the vice president of external relations at PLNU sent an email to faculty and staff announcing its intent to protest the changes.

The plan comes from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) SoCal Metroplex Study which proposes changes that would route east bound plans west over the ocean then back around over the Point Loma area.

One of the main concerns for Point Loma residents and PLNU is the extra noise the departing planes could cause.

“Our biggest concerns as an institution is noise and how that definitely disrupts an academic learning environment,” said Jill Monroe, director of public affairs.

The university has encouraged the FAA to retain the “LOWMA” satellite waypoint that requires planes to fly south to the end of Point Loma before turning to continue east.

The FAA also released an Environmental Assessment to identify any possible environmental impacts caused by the proposed changes. The assessment claims, however, that there would be no significant noise impact.

“Our buildings are not equipped to deal with any sound, any level of sound from jets that are frequently flying across the university, or adjacent to the university,” said Watkins via phone.

The San Diego Airport Authority hosted a meeting at the Corkey Mcmillin Companies Event Center on Tuesday to allow for public questions and comments. One of the main concerns expressed by attendees of Tuesday’s meeting is that planes may have already begun flying the proposed flight paths over Point Loma.

Members of the FAA tried to explain that this was not the case.

“It’s important to understand the route structure is there, however air traffic controllers will vector aircraft off that route for a variety of reasons, safety, weather, sequencing to the east and all those reasons,” said FAA Western Pacific Regional Administrator, Glen Martin. “So the reason that you see traffic over Point Loma today is for those reasons…”

An outburst of protests from the audience drowned out the rest of Martin’s explanation.

“The comments where you believe we’ve flown these procedures: we can’t fly them and I’ll tell you very simply for one reason. They’re not published. They’re not anywhere any crew can fly them,” said Rob Henry, manager of the SoCal Metroplex project about the proposed flight paths.

He explained that the process of preparing the Environmental Assessment began in early 2014 before being completed in the spring of 2015. A decision will be made in January of 2016 and any changes will be implemented later that year in November.

The public comment submission period ended October 8.

Both Watkins and Monroe attended the meeting on Tuesday but learned that any comments or questions made during would not be recorded or answered by the FAA. Watkins addressed the FAA officials with his concern that PLNU was not acknowledged in the environmental assessment report.

“This is a very complex matter and part of the challenge that we have is that the FAA’s environmental assessment report – as you may have heard in my comments in the meeting Tuesday night – did not take into account the presence of a university that has 3,000 people on campus every day,” Watkins told The Point.

Watkins said that the school’s concern is whether these environmental factors could affect student and employee health as well as increase the need for maintenance on campus.

He said that the school may have to retrofit more than 1 million square feet of buildings for “sound mitigation,” a significant additional cost that he’s concerned would affect tuition.

According to Monroe noise and vibrations could affect sensitive equipment in the school’s science buildings.

Watkins added that the school has also been communicating with elected officials like Congressman Scott Peters; City Council Member, Lorie Zapf, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer who has also criticized the proposals.

Monroe and Watkins explain that the school would review all of its options if the proposed changes are instituted.

“We’d have to look at our next steps, which could very well include legal action,” Monroe said, “…it’s dependent upon the review that will go on after the comment period closed.”

“Ultimately you have to ask the question: ‘If the plan were to be – or not to be – modified, is there any kind of legal action one could take?’” Watkins said, “All I would say at this point is, we’re reviewing every option available to us.”

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Jonathan Soch

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