In spite of a decrease in daily flights and passenger capacity (down steeply 2005-2007, and still below 2004 levels), there are even more flights at peak hours at MSP. Also, more runway incursions, more separation alarms, and more congestion around gates and taxiways.
Two years ago (September 16, 2010) two planes taking off at the same time from MSP very, very nearly collided in the air over Taft Lake in Richfield (near Home Depot and Highways 77 and 62). As a result, FAA and airlines made a series of changes in departures and runway use.
This resulted in more overflights north of MSP and thousands of complaints. There were also more service complaints, such as fly-arounds and gate delays, but these escaped public attention, and were not mentioned aloud at Metropolitan Airport Commission meetings.
To avoid reducing runway use per hour (high rates support the Delta-Sky Team hub), FAA and airlines are more often flying quite near the minimum safe separations and sometimes closer together.
When State, Metro, and city goverments should be looking for safe, sufficient, and affordable air service, the controversy over overflights and tracks is a distraction.
FAA now manages separations by turning departures off of the runway or the runway heading sooner. Air traffic control and airline capabilities probably are strained.
As a consequence of a national FAA policy* for more airline route “autonomy,” FAA airport towers are directed to allow or plan approaches and departures guided by “performance-based navigation (PBN).”
The South Metro Airport Action Council sought the help of US Representative Keith Ellison, Senators Franken and Klobuchar to request lower rates since safer, less impactful, and less expensive alternatives are available to provide more than enough air service.
Note that the 2020 Expansion review was submitted before the overflight noise discussions, and some routes changes have been in place since Spring 2011, with a formal procedure change made in July 2012.
Noise exposure would be less if operations per hour were limited, but more importantly, it would be safer and less costly.
MAC just postponed its approval of the PBN routes, but FAA claims it has the need and authority to implement the “RNAV/PBN” routes anyway.
Bob Friedman and other citizens researching RNAV/PBN routes are questioning the MAC staff analysis of the noise exposure impacts. Limited flight paths will increase noise intensity both along and across the repeated tracks, especially as average attained altitude will be lower near the airport. Sound intensity “spreads out” on both sides of a route in proportion to the height, and noise from adjacent tracks will overlap at a distance from the runways.
* FAA has a tech group working on interim ways to operate at “separation minima,” objectively less safe operations at peak hours at hub airports, expecially at MSP with so many operations by regional carriers (who have recognized but not remedied safety issues with staff training (pilots and SOC), recruitment, and aircraft maintenance.