FAA seeks to make airspace between LMM and Isla Grande airports safer
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is launching a proceeding to potentially alter the flight path of airplanes departing the Isla Grande Airport in Miramar toward the east, so there is no conflict with aircraft using the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport’s (LMM) airspace.
The FAA embarked on the public discussion following several studies to ensure that the airspace between the two airports is safe, agency officials said during an informal virtual meeting that was open to questions from the participating community, which included small aircraft operators.
At the heart of the discussion is the fact that the Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci regional airport’s air traffic control tower in Isla Grande offers service from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but planes can still land and take off outside those hours.
But when they fly toward the east — in the direction of the LMM airport in Carolina — they are handed off to the air traffic control tower at LMM for guidance.
FAA officials, LMM representatives and air traffic controllers took part in the meeting about the planned changes, which essentially call for giving pilots taking off from Isla Grande more time to establish two-way communication with LMM’s air traffic control tower.
If the proposed changes are ultimately passed, pilots leaving Isla Grande headed east will have about 2.5 additional miles to inform whether they need to enter LMM’s airspace, all in the name of enhanced safety, airport officials said.
During the informal meeting conducted via Zoom, Sonia Quiñones, operations supervisor at LMM, confirmed that pilots using the Isla Grande airport have “expressed confusion when departing from [Isla Grande] when the Isla Grande tower is closed and with their responsibility of establishing two-way radio communications upon entering” LMM airspace.
“If a pilot departs westbound, for example, and remains clear of [LMM] airspace, there’s no need to communicate with the San Juan tower at that time. But in case they do, then they would have to definitely contact us at the tower prior to entering our airspace,” she said.
The proposed changes in handoffs for aircraft between Isla Grande and the LMM tower will not imply an increase in the number of flights already using the airport facilities, as the FAA does not control that aspect of airport operations.
“The FAA considers making a change like this for safety. The plan will not change existing flight paths and it will not be the cause of more flights over the area,” said Andreese Davis, the FAA’s Operations Support Group Airspace and Procedures South Team Manager.
The FAA’s proposed rulemaking will go through several reviews and the public can participate and comment on the proposed changes through March 28.
Before any changes can be made, the proposed rule must also go through the environmental review, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act, Davis said.
“The review includes a preliminary technical review, a preliminary environmental review, an internal review and choice of appropriate NEPA review, which could include extraordinary circumstances and significant impacts,” he said.
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