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New flight plans to improve air traffic in Las Vegas Valley

After multiple public meetings gauging Las Vegas Valley residents’ opinions on flight patterns around the area, aviation officials are one step closer to launching proposed improvements aimed at simplifying the aviation experience.

The Federal Aviation Administration held a trio of meetings last week regarding the Next Generation Air Transportation Metroplex project, which calls for using a satellite-based navigation system to design routes as opposed to the decades-old beacon-based navigation system used today.

The new technology will allow officials to better route aircraft in the region, where the mountainous terrain surrounding Las Vegas and the restricted military airspace tied to nearby Nellis Air Force Base present barriers to air travel.

FAA officials likened the switch to motorists moving from paper maps to GPS.

The new system will modernize the air traffic procedures, enhance safety and reduce the complexity for air traffic controllers and pilots, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Bill Newton and his wife, Susan Newton, longtime Henderson residents both who pilot small planes, applaud the new flight path plan.

“I have no concerns about the implementation of the new paths. From what I’ve seen so far I am quite happy with the changes,” Bill Newton said at Thursday’s FAA meeting at the Clark County Government Center. “They’ll improve efficiency at McCarran (International Airport) and increase safety on approaches and arrivals and the handling of all (air) traffic.”

Las Vegas is the last of 12 regions to move to adopt the system.

Some routes are being completely redone to maximize efficiency, Gregor said. In other cases, the best general path already exists, but minor tightening of those routes can improve their effectiveness, he said.

Improving commercial flights out of McCarran will benefit nearby Henderson Executive and the North Las Vegas airports, as higher flying altitudes for arrival and departure paths over those areas will result in less ground delays for the neighboring facilities.

“The air space is very congested today,” Susan Newton said. “The GPS stuff really helps.”

The Newtons fly out of Henderson regularly and said the improved ingress and egress will be a welcome addition once it goes live.

“I like the standardization of the departures and procedures,” Bill Newton, 71, said. “There’s higher altitudes where needed (for commercial aircraft going to McCarran). I think it’s great.”

Routes could be built and programmed into computers, allowing the aircraft to fly automatically. That would decrease the amount of communication between pilots and air traffic controllers, which would lessen the chance of miscommunication and lead to safer flights, according to the FAA.

“The aircrafts can fly themselves,” Gregor said. “The descent angle and path are programmed in and it will fly on idle power, throttle pulled back, making it quieter and reducing fuel burn and emissions.”

That improved efficiency could lead to new flights at McCarran and other area airports, Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County aviation director said earlier this month.

A 30-day comment period is open until 11:59 p.m. on May 11, for residents who weren’t able to attend one of the three public meetings last week. Following the comment period, the FAA will consider all applicable comments received during public outreach while developing its draft environmental assessment for the project.

The FAA will then host additional public meetings ahead of drafting its final environmental assessment. Following that, the FAA will conduct additional workshops to inform the public about the final routes.

Implementation of any new routes is scheduled for mid-2020, Gregor said.

“The changes can’t come any sooner,” Bill Newton said.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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