City Council

Ward 11 - John Quincy

350 S. 5th St., Room 307
Minneapolis, MN 55415
(612) 673-2211

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Airport Noise Pollution

Airport noise is something that the residents of the 11th Ward deal with on a daily basis. That doesn't mean we need to be complacent. Council Member Quincy and a number of other elected officials and staff are looking for ways to improve the noise pollution problems around the airport and make sure that the noise pollution is shared. Below are updates on the happenings regarding noise pollution from the airport.

Aviation and airport noise can be a complicated topic with it's own language, terms and acronyms.  If you encounter a term you don't recognize, see if it has been added to the airport glossary  If you can't find what you are looking for, e-mail to let us know so we can explain and add it for future users.

August 24, 2015

Changes in Runway Usage

In Late July the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) notified the FAA Control Tower at MSP that it in their opinion it was unsafe to land planes on the North/South runway while at the same time using the southern parallel runway for departures. This put a major crink in the usage of MSP because the Control Tower had discovered that the most efficient use of the runways at MSP was to use the two parallel runways and the North/South runways to accept arrivals from the south and then use the north ends of the parallel runways for departures. This allowed them to have up to 90 operations per hour. By not being allowed to use the North /South runway, the FAA states that their efficiency is reduced to 60-64 operations per hour.

In general, this is good news for residents dealing with airport noise pollution. But the FAA will continue to search for new ways of using the runways to increase efficiency. In their message publically acknowledging these changes, they stated one possible solution would be for the north parallel runway to have all departures, and then presumably the south parallel and the North/South runway would be only for arrivals. Presumably this would increase efficiency since the departures would not need to wait and weave in arrivals. But, for those living under the north parallel departure tracks, departures would be more constant and closer together. We suggested to the FAA that they should look at using the North/South runway for all departures, which would put all departing planes over the Minnesota river, and then use the parallels for arrivals. The FAA replied back that they are looking at all options and will let us know when they have a solution (don’t call us, we’ll call you). 

We did notice, anecdotally, that in comparing the first two weeks of August that there were fewer flight operations over Minneapolis this year versus last year. Weather could have been a factor, but at least for the short term. It appears they are using the North/South runway for more departures (37% in 2015 vs. 28% of departures in August, 2014) but at the same time, there were virtually no arrivals on the North/South runway.

Long Range Planning

Over the past year, the MAC has been updating their Long Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP-2035) projecting out to the year 2035 and developing plans of what MSP infrastructure should look like based on estimates of total number of operations in 2035. But, as you can see from the article above, we may be at the cusp of a major change at the airport that could have major impacts on the airport. Efficiency and total number of operations per hour is considerably less than it was prior to the NTSB direction. And, it may be that the runways are used differently, with infrastructure around the runways either helping or hindering the efficiency. It may also be that the efficiency may not ever be able to increase to a level acceptable to the airlines, so making more capital investments in an airport we have outgrown is wasteful. So until the FAA completes their work on how the runways will be used generally in the future, it seems imprudent to move forward with an update to the LTCP-2035. We have let the MAC know this and are also working with the Metropolitan Council, who oversees large capital projects at MSP, to make sure they are contemplating these changes as well.


Recent Noise Complaints


Over the last month or so, we at City Hall started to hear from more constituents complaining about airport noise. In some ways the complaints mirrored last summer when the summer conditions (a high number of planes flying at lower altitudes) were made worse by the over-use of certain runways. But, there was also a big increase in complaints about early morning and late night flights. The City contacted the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) about these concerns and Dana Nelson, MAC Noise Manager, looked at the data and confirmed what residents were observing. The number of nighttime operations was up. “Operation” refers to either an arriving or departing plane. MAC said they also noticed an increase in complaints. MAC received 12,800 complaints in June – the highest number in the last 3.5 years. 416 different Minneapolis households made complaints.

Increase in Nighttime Operations

When talking about airport data, there are different definitions of “nighttime” but this information was based on 11:00 pm to 6:00 am time period. The data that Ms. Nelson produced showed that most of the increase in nighttime operations was the result of arriving planes. Airlines were scheduling more flights during the nighttime hours than they did before. More arrivals were being scheduled at times like 4:00-5:00 am and 11:00 pm. 

Night arrivals at the airport were up 15% compared to last year. Since many nighttime arrivals come in over Minneapolis, our residents are impacted disproportionately by this problem. The increase in arrivals over Minneapolis, specifically, was 24%. The theory behind Minneapolis getting arrival noise at night is that we are spared the louder operations (departures) which use the other end of the runway. However, there tends to be a lot more arrivals at night than departures so it doesn’t feel like much of a benefit.

Action by the NOC & MAC

Minneapolis shared our concerns with our MAC Commissioners and with other communities around the airport. Other cities, like Mendota Heights, were also having a problem as a result of nighttime flights. At the Noise Oversight Committee (NOC) meeting on July 22, the committee took an action to advise the MAC of this problem and to ask MAC to communicate with airlines operating at MSP and remind them about the airport’s desire to limit the number of flights scheduled at night. This request, and the overall topic of increased noise and complaints, will be going to the MAC in August via the Planning, Development & Environment committee where we expect further exploration of what can be done.

We would like to know if there are carrots or sticks that can discourage these nighttime flights. We know that these flights are particularly disruptive to residents. Unfortunately, the federal government has laws and regulations in place that are designed to limit what airports can do in terms of “restricting” air traffic. What constitutes a “restriction” has been interpreted broadly. Dana Nelson was quoted in the Star Tribune saying, "Since we are a public use airport, we cannot pose any restrictions as to who can fly in and out of here or what time of day they can fly or what kind of aircraft they can fly.” The City continues to be very actively involved in trying to shape better federal policy working with many partners including Congressman Ellison. In the meantime, we want to explore any tools that can discourage nighttime flights and we hope the MAC can convey a persuasive message to airlines.

Runway Use Efforts

Another effort underway that may have potential to help with nighttime noise is our work to change how runways are used. The airport has a program in place called the Runway Use System (RUS) and the idea behind it is the FAA Control Tower should use runways where less people will be impacted by noise, whenever possible.  So, if they can avoid departing or arriving planes over Minneapolis, they should do that. You helped us to communicate with the MAC about the importance of this issue. The FAA Control Tower has agreed to work on it, starting with early morning flights and then looking at late evening flights. The FAA says they can’t do much during the day when the airport is at high capacity, but they will look at “shoulder hours” - the transition between day and night and higher to lower capacity. During these periods they can attempts to use a “mixed flow” that does not put any operations over Minneapolis. This is a fairly new commitment and we aren’t really seeing results yet. But, we believe the FAA is sincere in its efforts and we are going to continue to work towards this. The MAC has also expressed support for this and committed to monitoring the success of this effort along with the Noise Oversight Committee.


Some residents have said they believe airplanes are flying lower. MAC staff looked at a couple previous years data compared to this year. They looked at the altitude of airplanes as they passed Remote Monitoring Tower (RMT) locations. The gist of their conclusions was that there isn’t a clear trend or change for departure altitudes. However, keep in mind that departing planes are always lower on average in the summer due to warmer and thinner air. So, some residents may be picking up on seasonal changes. At some locations, the planes can be several hundred feel lower in July than January. Also, the planes being used at MSP tend to be larger than in the past so a larger plane at the same altitude is going to be experienced differently. We will be keeping an eye on this.

An examination of arrival data produced a similar conclusion – that altitudes are consistent with previous years at the locations of the RMT’s. Minneapolis looked carefully at RMT 5 and 6 because they are directly in the arrival path for runway 12R and 12L, respectively. The data doesn’t show a change. But, again, the planes are bigger and that’s different.

New arrival procedures have been in use since March. It is said that the new procedures allow for a smoother, gradual descent. We are told that any noise reduction benefits from this procedure probably help people much further out from the airport and that by the time the airplane is lined up to land at MSP the operation should look no different than in the past.


2015 Long Term Comprehensive Plan

The Process

Every 5 years, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) updates their Long-Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP) for the airport.  Each plan looks ahead 20 years and identifies what MAC expects to happen at the airport, such as the number of passengers and planes. The plan assesses facility needs and environmental considerations, and looks at alternatives to meeting the future needs and challenges of the airport.  MAC is currently working on the 2035 LTCP.  In the fall there will be a public meeting held in Minneapolis. We have suggested that MAC staff make a presentation and facilitate a Q&A period. Based on feedback from the last LTCP process, we believe residents would find this more useful and informative than only viewing poster boards. If you agree, or disagree, share your input with MAC or the City. MAC staff and MAC Commissioners have been very supportive of outreach suggestions and trying to ensure that residents have time to review and weigh in on the plan. Those efforts are appreciated. After the initial community engagement, the draft LTCP will be published for a 45 day comment period. The plan is expected to be adopted by the end of 2015 or early 2016 Forecasts- People and PlanesThe 2035 forecasts show that the airport is expected to grow in terms of the number of people moved, and the number of airplanes. The forecast number of airport operations (“operation” = departure or arrival) is 511,000 annual operations in 2035. The forecast also includes a range of possibilities – with 621,000 operations per year at the high end and 400,000 operations at the low end.   To help put this information in some context, the number of operations in 2014 was 411,760 and the number of operations in 2013 was 431,573.  The year MSP experienced its highest level of operations was 2004 and the total was 540,727.  When the last LTCP was prepared in 2009, the forecast for 2030 was 630,837.  The current forecast is quite a bit lower than that and the primary reason is that airlines are using larger planes now and therefore they can move more people using fewer airplanes. When it comes to the number of passengers, MAC forecasts 25 million enplanements in 2035. An “enplanement” is the number of people boarding a plane, whether the trip originates at MSP or if it’s a connecting flight.  In 2014, there were about 17 million enplanements at MSP. 

Noise forecast

The noise forecast for 2035 is shown as a comparison to the “baseline” noise from 2014.  A map is produced showing areas that are 60 DNL or above and areas that are 65 DNL and above. Without going into a detailed explanation of “DNL” is or how it’s calculated, it has a loose relationship to the decibel readings at a location averaged over the day and night. The City thinks that DNL, and the modeling it’s based on, is a deeply flawed measure of noise but it is the current national standard. DNL does a poor job of reflecting impacts such as how many planes you’re exposed to, or how frequently you hear them. The City has been advocating, along with others, for a new noise metric and FAA is now exploring a possible change.

The 2035 forecast shows an increase in areas affected by noise.

mac ltcp contours

The 2035 contours (yellow) look much bigger than the 2014 actual contours (white). The 65 DNL contour is 53.8% larger than the 2014 65 DNL contour, and the 2035 forecast 60 DNL contour is 56.1% larger than the 2014 60 DNL contour. This translates into 6,800 Minneapolis homes that will be newly added to the noise exposure area of 60 DNL or more. MAC staff project that the percentage of flights occurring at night will be the same in 2035 as 2014 at 8.4%. Therefore, if the number of operations grows as forecasted, nighttime operations will increase from 95.3 average daily operations to 118.3 average daily operations. 

Noise impacts are expected to grow in areas like the arrival paths over Southwest Minneapolis. A big reason for that is the expected increase in nighttime operations. For purposes of calculating noise impacts, nighttime planes are treated as if they are 10 dB louder than they actually are so they can have a big impact on increasing average noise levels and shaping the contours. Of course, those flights are penalized this way because they are acknowledged to be more disruptive. You will see also see that the contours are growing in the areas of heavy expected departures including the Lake Nokomis area. Somewhat surprisingly, the LTCP believe that more departures will use 30R (towards Lake Nokomis) than 30L (towards southwest Minneapolis and Edina) - which is not the case right now.

Just an FYI - the forecast noise contours that were produced 5 years ago were bigger in area than the 2035 noise contours but they didn’t necessarily impact all the same areas. Some people may point to the 2030 contours to argue that things are better now by comparison. But, that kind of outlook was not good in 2010, and it’s not good now. The current conditions at the airport are already considered unsustainable in the eyes of many Minneapolis residents. If the airport expects to grow, we need to identify what actions can improve current conditions, prevent and mitigate negative impacts, and create a sustainable situation for the future. 

Learn More

MAC staff presented to the City’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee about the LTCP and noise projections on July 16.  Watch the webcast or view the power-point presentation.

On July 22, MAC staff gave a presentation to Noise Oversight Committee about a number of topics including recent noise complaints and the 2035 LTCP.

November 20

In November of 2012, the FAA brought forward a proposal for RNAV tracks for MSP. The MAC requested that the FAA should implement the RNAV tracks for the majority of the runways, but saw major flaws in the RNAV tracks for runways 30R & 30L. Therefore the MAC asked the FAA to not implement the RNAV departure tracks on 30R & 30L. Initially the FAA stated they would need 30-90 days to reexamine the RNAV departure procedures being recommended by the MAC for safety and environmental impacts. About 60 days after the MAC action, FAA staff presented to the NOC and stated at that time they were not done with their safety and environmental checks for the partial implementation of RNAV. When asked specifically by the NOC representative from Richfield as to when the FAA planned to go back and look further at RNAV departure tracks for 30R & 30L, FAA staff stated that they had no plans to implement RNAV for those runways. But, here we sit, over a year later, with no information from the FAA about the status of RNAV.
The City of Minneapolis and Congressman Ellison are both sending letters to the FAA requesting a status update, or at least a further assurance from FAA that any RNAV departure tracks off of 30R & 30L will require bringing the plan back out to the public and presumably major changes to the plan.

November 10

The MAC has added a new page to their website that lists runway closures of longer than 30 minutes.  Can be helpful if investigating unusual arrivals or departures.

August 28

Congressman Ellison Holds Discussion of RNAV

On August 27th, Congressman Ellison sponsored a forum to discuss RNAV with the residents potentially affected by the new tracks. He was joined by his colleague, Congressman Erik Paulson, who represents portions of Edina and Richfield. On a hot and steamy August evening, over 400 residents from Minneapolis, Richfield and Edina showed up to take part in the discussion.  Legislators, including Representative Frank Hornstein, and Jim Davnie and Senator Scott Dibble also came to listen.  The core of the Minneapolis Airport Working Group, including Council Members Quincy, Colvin Roy, Hodges and Glidden were also in attendance, as well as several City Elected Officials from Edina and Richfield. There were numerous comments and questions, which Congressman Ellison’s office collected and will respond if necessary. But the real consensus from the meeting seemed to be informing the FAA that the RNAV tracks will likely cause hardship on residents by concentrating noise. So if it is necessary to implement RNAV and place the tracks over residential properties, it is imperative for the FAA to explain the current safety concerns that would be solved and demonstrate how safety is markedly improved by implementing RNAV.

Several local media outlets covered the event:

Star Tribune 



August 26

What have we been up to?

The City is continuing to tackle the problem of airport noise on a number of fronts.  Below is a listing an brief update on several of the items we are discussing. 

RNAV meeting- The FAA is under mandate from Congress to implement NextGen navigation procedures around the country. One of the first steps of that is RNAV. The FAA spent 20 months creating RNAV tracks, but did not consult or share them with the people most directly affected by the noise pollution, the residents under the tracks, until the very last minute. Due to major conflicts within the RNAV tracks and lack of data that would have been useful in making a decision, the MAC requested that the FAA do a partial implementation of RNAV, and come back with new tracks and better information about the tracks for the runways going over south Minneapolis. At the end of August, Congressman Ellison is holding a meeting with residents to determine what type of data should be provided and process the FAA should follow when they develop the new RNAV tracks.

Consent Decree amendment- The City has a court mediated settlement with the MAC to provide home mitigation to residents, but that program was scheduled to expire next year. Due to the MAC expansion plans, the City negotiated with the MAC to extend the mitigation and for the first time ever, provide mitigation based on annual number of operations rather than projections of operations five years into the future.

Altitude studies- Concerns were raised by residents with the perception that planes were flying lower than they had been previously. The City worked with the MAC staff as well as our partners with the City of Edina to develop an altitude study to look at the altitude of departures off of Runways 30R and 30L. 

Statewide aviation strategy- Currently aviation strategy in Minnesota is bifurcated. The MAC is responsible for MSP and several reliever airports in the metro area while MnDOT is responsible for all the airports the MAC is not. That makes it hard to coordinate efforts and make sure that passenger service and flights are in the correct locations to serve all residents of the state and spread out the adverse effects statewide as well.

PGL- The FAA recently issued a Performance Guidance Letter (PGL) regarding which homes are eligible for noise pollution mitigation. Under the PGL, a home would not only need to be within the 65 dB DNL contour, but would also need to have an interior DNL reading of more than 45dB. The MAC and the cities surrounding MSP have agreed, through the Consent Decree, to a standard of 60 dB DNL. Homes in Minnesota, for the most part, have some insulation in the roof, so will have a difficult time meeting the 45 dB interior threshold. We have been active with our partners at NOISE to try to reverse the restrictions in this letter. At the same time, Minneapolis has developed a work around strategy to allow the mitigation around MSP to continue, regardless of the contents of this letter.

CatEx- Congress wrote into the last FAA authorization bill some very confusing language that seems to suggest that the FAA will not need to do any environmental review of RNAV tracks to see how the changes will affect residents under those tracks. The City has been working with our Federal lobbyist and our lobbyist has a seat at the table, representing community interests as a work group sits down and tries to figure out what was really meant by the Congressional language.

Independent Noise Study. The City of Minneapolis is working with MAC Commissioners to have the MAC contract with an outside organization, conduct an independent Noise Study to confirm the accuracy of both the INM modeling and Remote Monitoring Towers (RMT). This study will also include low frequency noise, which currently is excluded from INM modeling.

July 1

Council Members updated on efforts to mitigate airport noise

The Minneapolis City Council received an update on recent efforts to mitigate airport noise and advocate on behalf of Minneapolis residents whenever changes to federal aviation and regulations could affect them. This includes work on legislative and regulatory language that affects flight path changes in Minneapolis as well as work on regulatory changes that impact the city's noise insulation program.
While the City of Minneapolis recognizes the value that the airport brings to the Twin Cities, it also recognizes that our residents deserve protection from noise pollution. For years, the City has been one of the most active cities in the country in advocating for community input on federal aviation policy decisions. These efforts have resulted in one of the most extensive airport noise mitigation programs in the nation as the airport itself prepares for an increase in traffic.

Changes in airport navigation

The most recent Federal Aviation Policy bill requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement the next generation of airplane navigation, conveniently known as NextGen. A portion of NextGen is a series of departure and arrival procedures known at RNAV.
Under current departure procedures, airplanes leave the runway and are told to head in a specific direction. However, the exact path those planes travel can vary significantly. Under RNAV, planes taking off would all aim for one of a few specific points a couple miles out from the airport. Since the points would not change from day to day, those paths would get a great concentration of flight traffic. That gave airports near freeways, rivers, industrial corridors or other land that does not have homes the opportunity to route flights over those unpopulated areas and lessen the impact of airplane noise in places where people live. Of course, the City and residents of south Minneapolis immediately recognized that some of those advantages from RNAV would not be available in a heavily populated area where there are no unpopulated areas to concentrate flights.  The City and community grew concerned that the tracks could be more burden than benefit and asked for more information.  
Residents and City officials from both Minneapolis and Edina strenuously objected to the lack of public process in developing these RNAV tracks. The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) listened and asked the FAA to move forward with implementation of RNAV on most runways at the airport, but to delay in the implementation of the tracks for runways 30L and 30R.The FAA is now investigating whether they can implement RNAV safely on some of the runways while not implementing it on runways 30L and 30R. The FAA has stated they currently do not plan to implement RNAV tracks for those runways. Obviously decisions can change, so the City is watching this topic closely. 

Noise mitigation

In 2005, the Cities of Minneapolis, Richfield and Eagan, as well as the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, filed a lawsuit against the MAC seeking to require the MAC to provide homes with noise abatement help (insulation and/or air conditioning, for example). A $127.6 million settlement cleared the way for some form of noise mitigation for more than 9,560 homes in Minneapolis, Richfield, Eagan and Bloomington. However, a projected increase in flights threatened that court-approved settlement agreement.
Minneapolis City officials have been tracking plans and are now pushing the MAC to extend the existing noise mitigation program to any homes that may be affected by the future airport traffic. On May 10 the City Council approved a measure to have the MAC continue to address the impact of airport noise on surrounding Minneapolis communities through an amendment to the settlement agreement. Under the proposed amendment, MAC will use the actual flight data for 2013 and following years to, using their computer model, annually produce contours showing which blocks are receiving noise above the agreed upon threshold level. After a home that has not previously been offered noise mitigation has been within the new threshold area for three consecutive years, the process for providing noise mitigation for these homes would then begin.  
Because the original settlement agreement was between the MAC and multiple jurisdictions, all of those parties must approve the amendment to the settlement agreement. The amended agreement must also be approved by the Court and the FAA.
Once approved by the Court, the FAA and each of these parties, the agreement will require that noise will be monitored and mapped annually and will ensure that homes that are newly within a threshold area get noise mitigation of the kind provided in the 2007 settlement. It also ensures that mitigation will be based on our locally recognized noise standards which are more stringent than other communities. 
More information on airport noise mitigation efforts is available at

May 10, 2013

Consent Decree Amendment Authorized

The City of Minneapolis has long fought to have the Metropolitan Airports Commission protect Minneapolis residents from the detrimental impacts of the airport, including noise pollution generated by air traffic. As a result of that work, we have the most extensive noise mitigation program in the country; however, the City’s work cannot stop there.

Currently, the MAC is working to finalize an expansion plan, known as the MSP 2020 Improvement Plan, that includes a number of projects that prepare the airport for projected needs well into the future. Minneapolis City officials have been tracking the MAC’s proposed plans and pushing the MAC to extend the existing noise mitigation program and standards to any homes that may be impacted by the future airport noise pollution.

The City Council approved a measure that will spur the MAC to continue to address the impact of airport noise pollution on surrounding Minneapolis communities. The City Council approved an amendment to a 2007 court-approved settlement agreement in which the communities surrounding the airport and the MAC agreed that sound mitigation should be available to households out to the 60DNL.

The MAC proposed using estimates and 7 year projections to create contour maps showing where it thinks the noise will be in 2020 and had proposed mitigation for just those blocks.  But, if between now and 2020, the flight patterns change and the noise becomes more intense elsewhere, there would be no way to compensate for that.  So if certain blocks were not projected to reach the agreed upon threshold, yet residents found themselves living with that level of traffic, there was no method to provide relief.

The revised settlement amendment approved by the City Council calls for this annual evaluation and states that if a property is at or above 60DNL for three consecutive years, then that property will be eligible for the same sound mitigation options as was required in the original settlement agreement.

Because the original settlement agreement was between the MAC and multiple jurisdictions, all of those parties must approve the amendment to the settlement agreement. The amended agreement must also be approved by Hennepin County Courts and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Throughout this negotiation process with the MAC, the City’s goal has been to preserve the most extensive noise mitigation program in the country, which is what our residents deserve.

March 2013

MSP 2020 Plan Environmental Assessment

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) is currently in the process of finalizing an expansion plan that includes many different projects to prepare the airport for the projected needs in 2030. While the City of Minneapolis recognizes the value that the airport brings to the region, City leaders are committed to ensuring that Minneapolis residents continue to have protection from the environmental impacts of the airport including noise generated by air traffic.

As part of the settlement of a  lawsuit in 2007, the communities surrounding the airport and the MAC agreed that mitigation should be available out to the 60DNL. That agreement is the most extensive noise mitigation program in the country.  As MAC moves forward with their expansion plans, Minneapolis officials are committed to working with the MAC and other local jurisdictions to ensure that our residents have the same noise protection as the airport grows to meet future demands.

But Minneapolis is also looking to enhance the program.  In the past, mitigation has been based on the contour maps that were developed using projected numbers of flights and projections for the tracks of those flights several years into the future.  What Minneapolis is requesting and the MAC seems agreeable to is basing mitigation on current flight track data for the year, and reexamining those maps each year to see if there are more blocks that qualify. 
Under the old system, the MAC was using estimates and projections to create contour maps of where they think the noise will be in 2020 and had proposed mitigation for just those blocks.  But, if between now and 2020, the flight patterns changed and the noise was more intense elsewhere, there was no way to compensate for that.  So if certain blocks were not projected to reach the agreed upon threshold, but the residents were living with that level of traffic, there was no method to provide relief.

Under what Minneapolis proposed, at the end of the year, MAC will take the actual flights for 2013 and following years and put them into their computer modeling, and based on the new contours see which blocks are receiving noise above the agreed upon threshold and then after a specified measuring period start the process for mitigating those homes.

The City of Minneapolis is negotiating with the MAC to reach an agreement that appropriately covers Minneapolis residents, but things look hopeful.  Minneapolis’ goal is to preserve the most extensive noise mitigation program in the country, which is what our residents deserve.

Performance Based Navigation - 2/14/13

The most recent Federal Aviation Policy bill requires the FAA to implement the next generation of airplane navigation, conveniently known as NextGen. The law requires FAA to implement NextGen at the 35 largest airports by 2025. The FAA states, “NextGen enhances safety, reduces delays, saves fuel and reduces aviation's environmental impact.” ( A portion of NextGen is a series of departure and arrival procedures known at RNAV.

Under current departure procedures, airplanes leave the runway and are told to turn a specific direction, but the plane is still at the mercy of how quickly it can become stable in the air before making the initial turn, and the winds aloft, so the path of the planes can vary significantly depending on the type of plane, how heavily it is loaded, and the weather. Under RNAV, planes would take off and then all aim for a specific point that is a couple miles out from the airport. Therefore, the closer to the point the planes get, the more flights there are all flying a very similar path. Since the points would be the same every day, those paths are very predictable. This change is very good news for airports that have a freeway, rivers, industrial corridor or other land that does not have homes on it. The planes can be routed over these compatible land uses, lessening the impact of airplane noise on residential homes.

Since 2010, the FAA has been meeting with airlines and other airport users to solicit their input into where to place these points around MSP. In January of 2012, the FAA was on the agenda of the Noise Oversight Committee (NOC) to publically present where the points would be located, but just before the meeting, they withdrew their request to make a presentation. It was on the agenda for the next NOC meeting in March, and again withdrawn. Finally in September, the FAA was ready to present the tracks. The MAC had planned that the community representatives of NOC would develop a plan for public notification (not input) of the tracks before the next NOC meeting in November and then implement the notification plan between November and January. However, at the meeting the FAA stated that they needed things to move much faster than that. They said that due to time constraints with their testing equipment, they either needed the MAC to show their support for the RNAV tracks as presented, without any opportunity for changes, or the implementation of the project would be delayed until the fall of 2014.

The City of Minneapolis and residents of SW Minneapolis immediately recognized problems with the RNAV tracks. Currently, flights take off from the south parallel runway (R 30L) and generally follow Crosstown 62. But the actual track the plane follows depends on how quickly it can turn and the winds aloft. The development of RNAV tracks was an opportunity for the FAA to put the flights in a very tight pattern over the Crosstown, or some other compatible land use. But instead, the FAA developed two main tracks for Runway 30L. One track over the Crosstown and was projected to handle approximately half of the flights. But the other half of the flights would have concentrated flights over a swath of residential homes in SW Minneapolis and Edina, aimed at a point just south of downtown Hopkins. The FAA said that they needed the two tracks because at the very busiest times at the airport, they would not have the capacity for all the flights that would be departing off of 30L. Spread out over a 24 hour period (or actually 16 hours - 7am to 11pm), there is plenty of capacity, but being a hub airport for Delta, MSP has banks of hours where a number of flights come in to MSP, the passengers catch their connecting flight and then lots of flights are trying to leave all at the same time. It is during these banks that there would not be enough capacity.

Residents and City officials from both Minneapolis and Edina strenuously objected to the lack of public process in developing the RNAV tracks. The MAC listened and asked the FAA to move forward with implementation of RNAV on most runways at MSP, but to delay in the implementation of the tracks for 30L and 30R.

At this point, the FAA is investigating whether they can implement RNAV safely on some of the runways while not implementing it on 30L and 30R. They plan to report back to the Noise Oversight Committee in March. The FAA has stated they currently do not plan to implement RNAV tracks for 30R and 30L, and as of now, do not have plans to revisit that decision. Obviously decisions can change, so the city is watching this topic closely. Proactively, the City is working on advisory information for the FAA about what a public process to notify residents of this proposed change should entail, in case the FAA decides to implement RNAV tracks on 30R and 30L.

Performance Based Navigation - 11/30/12

Over the past year, the FAA has been working with the airlines to develop new Performance Based Navigation departure and arrival routes, known as RNAV, for commercial flights using MSP. The actual tracks were not seen by anyone other than the FAA and the airlines, until the end of September. As they were releasing these tracks, the FAA requested that the MAC take action and grant their support for the tracks by the middle of November.

There appears to be tangible noise benefits for the communities to the south of MSP, but the potentialramifications for the departures to the north was less clear. It appears the FAA is taking the flights from a corridor that currently nominally uses the Crosstown as the departure corridor andwill put half of those departures on a set corridor south of Lake Harriet. Part of the reason there is so little information about the potential ramifications of the new tracks is that there has not been a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impacts. Additionally, the RNAV plan is moving forward, separate from the airport expansion plans that will also be increasing airport traffic. The City of Minneapolis has for months been asking the MAC and FAA to study the environmental impacts of the expansion of the terminals along with the implementation of RNAV. So far, the MAC and FAA have done a much simpler Environmental Assessment (EA) for the terminal expansion plan and nothing formal for environmental assessment of RNAV. So, what the city has been requesting is:

An Environmental Impact Statement for the expansion plans that takes RNAV into account

Community conversation about the location of the RNAV departure tracks.
We are hoping to hear soon from the MAC and FAA on how they plan to proceed.

Environmental Assessment For Airport Expansion - 9/1/12

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), is considering an expansion in the number of gates at the airport and additional taxiways and other building. Under one of the scenarios,Delta and it’s partners would be the sole tenants within the Lindberg Terminal and all other airlines would be based at the Humphrey Terminal.
The MAC has conducted an Environmental Assessment (EA) on the various plans and have released the results for public comment. The MAC will conduct three open house opportunities to learn more about the EA as well as a formal public hearing. The open house being held in Minneapolis will be on September 18 at the Lake Nokomis Community Center, 2401 E. Minnehaha Pkwy, 5:30-8:30 PM. The public hearing will be October 1 at MAC offices 6040 28th Ave S., 7:00 PM. The comment period closes on October 11.

Minneapolis officials will be preparing comments and testifying at the MAC meeting, as well as attending the public open houses.

Noise Oversight Committee - 7/11/12

The Noise Oversight Committee (NOC), and advisory committee of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) met on July 11. A couple of items of interest came out of that meeting.

Divergent Departure Headings- Last summer there was a large number of complaints about airplane noise coming from new areas of the city that had not seen that level of noise. Council Member Quincy and city staff worked with residents, MAC staff and FAA staff to figure out what was different from previous years. Many theories evolved and the answer is likely a combination of a multitude of factors, but one thing that became fairly plain was that the airlines are using more regional jets (CRJ’s) which allowed for more flights flying a nearly identical pattern and at shorter intervals and at a lower altitude. The FAA suggested that it would improve the patterns and intervals to use multiple headings for departures. Up until that point, the control tower told each plane that after the departed they should turn straight north, or 360 degrees. The FAA recommendation was that those planes that aren’t going to the east coast, could turn to 340 degrees or 320 degrees, thus spreading out where the planes are going and breaking up the intervals over any one home. It took a while for the FAA to run the procedure through the paces and check to make sure it won’t have environmental effects worse than the problem they are trying to solve. That work has now been completed and the FAA will be implementing the divergent departure heading procedure starting July 23rd.

Noise Abatement Departure Procedure- In 1993, the FAA issued a directive to airports regarding departure procedures for airplanes to help with noise over residential areas very close to the airport. They allowed two different departure procedures, known as Close-in, providing reduced noise within 3.5 miles of the airport, and Distant, providing reduced noise farther from the airport. The MAC initially adopted the Close-in procedure for the north end of the parallel runways, which are where the flights over south Minneapolis originate. But in 2003, MAC took another look at the procedures and the MAC noise office developed a report that showed that if they used the distant departure profile on the parallel runways, it would slightly increase noise near the airport, but it was over homes that had already had the MAC noise mitigation done to them. And, the Distant procedure reduced noise further out, over areas that had not had the mitigation. The MAC has been using the distant departure procedure ever since then. Recently, because of the renewed noise complaints, the Noise Oversight Committee, asked MAC noise staff to take another look at these departure procedures and see if there would be a benefit to switching back to the Close-in procedure. The report developed by MAC noise staff concludes that with the more modern fleet that is flying out of MSP, that any difference in the departure procedures would be very minor and in fact, would actually increase noise very slightly.

Last updated Jul 13, 2016



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