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Airspace Changes Coming to Numerous Metroplexes

Despite challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the FAA plans to implement new performance-based navigation (PBN) routes to Las Vegas airports in early 2021. Similar optimizations are to be implemented in Florida, New York and Washington, DC airspace in the coming months.

The Las Vegas Metroplex project will optimize procedures to and from three area airports: Henderson Executive Airport (HND), McCarran International Airport (LAS) and North Las Vegas Airport (VGT). Originally scheduled for implementation in late May, the agency now is planning a Feb. 25, 2021 rollout as a result of COVID-related delays to environmental assessments and related public comment periods.

“We must overcome hurdles such as social distancing requirements and the inability to access key air traffic control facilities,” said FAA National Metroplex Manager Jim Arrighi of the Las Vegas project. “We’ve shifted into virtual ‘go teams’ from across the country to tackle these challenges.”

“Among the FAA’s largest ongoing initiatives is the South-Central Florida Metroplex project, which involves airspace over Tampa, Orlando, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.”

Among the FAA’s largest ongoing initiatives is the South-Central Florida Metroplex project, which involves airspace over Tampa, Orlando, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Unveiled in 2019, the project involves 106 new or amended procedures to 21 airports, with more changes to be rolled out in 2021.

“This airspace modernization is very important to the agency,” said Michael O’Harra, regional administrator for the FAA’s Southern Region. “We recognize how critical it is to provide the safest and most efficient airspace system available to support Florida’s economy.”

Christian Karns, the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn. co-lead on the South-Central Florida Metroplex project, noted the team “has met many challenges, but so far we haven’t experienced any delays” to implementation due to the coronavirus.

“That said, we have encountered some hurdles in workforce training and staffing due to facilities closures,” he added. “We also had to shift our public [in-person] workshops to an online, virtual format. But the outreach has been tremendous, and we’ve met all obligations on schedule.”

Another major project is the Northeast Corridor Atlantic Coast Route optimization, which will enable greater use of offshore route options, reduce offshore vectoring, and better segregate overflight traffic from arrival and departure corridors in New York and Washington, DC. Many high- and low-altitude routes along the Atlantic Corridor have been replaced by PBN-optimized routing options. But much of the rest of the project has been pushed into 2021, and possibly later.

To adapt to all airspace changes, the FAA encourages operators to make sure their flight management systems have the latest updates to include new chart cycles and routing implementations.

“Another way operators can help with this process is to participate in our monthly flight planners telecon to review these new routes,” said Vicki Turner, FAA co-lead on the South-Central Florida Metroplex Project. “We also work closely with NBAA to ensure the association’s website has the latest information.”

“Overall, I think we’ve done a great job in balancing the need to modernize the NAS with engaging the public in consideration of the safety and logistical aspects of COVID,” said O’Harra. “We’re excited to modernize this airspace for all operators, including business aviation, and I know they’ll appreciate the benefits.”

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