WASHINGTON: The government wants to dramatically reduce the allowable height of buildings near hundreds of airports — a proposal that is drawing fire from real estate developers and members of Congress who say it will reduce property values.
The Federal Aviation Administration proposal, supported by airports and airlines, is driven by encroaching development that limits safe flight paths for planes that might lose power in an engine during takeoff. Planes can fly with only one engine, but they have less power to climb quickly over obstacles.
Airlines have to plan for the possibility that a plane could lose the use of an engine during takeoff even though that doesn’t happen very often. As more buildings, cellphone towers, wind turbines and other tall structures go up near airports, there are fewer safe flight paths available. Current regulations effectively limit building heights based on the amount of clearance needed by planes with two operating engines.
Airlines already must sometimes cut down on the number of passengers and the amount of cargo carried by planes taking off from airports in Burbank and San Jose in California, and in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, and near Washington, D.C., among others, so they will be light enough to clear obstructions if only one engine is available, said Chris Oswald, vice president of the Airports Council International-North America.
The problem is exacerbated in hot weather when air is less dense and planes require more power during takeoff. Bigger planes that carry lots of passengers and cargo on lucrative international flights are especially affected.
Airports worry that the problem could cost airlines enough money that they’ll find some routes unprofitable and eliminate service, Oswald said.
The FAA’s proposal would change the way the agency assesses proposals to build new structures or modify existing structures near 388 airports to take into account the hazard that would be created to one-engine takeoffs. For example, under the proposal, a building located 10,000 feet from the end of a runway would have a maximum allowable height of 160 feet instead of the current limit of 250 feet, according to an analysis by the Weitzman Group, a New York real estate consulting firm. As the distance from an airport increases, the allowable building height increases as well. The proposal could affect buildings as far as 10 miles from an airport.
Planes taking off usually follow one of about a half-dozen possible flight paths. To limit the number of buildings and other structures affected by the proposal, the FAA is recommending airports and local zoning boards work together to select a single flight path for each runway that planes can use in the event that an engine quits, said John Speckin, the FAA deputy regional administrator in charge of the proposal. The new height limits would only apply to structures in that path, he said.