A Tale of Two Optimized Profile Descents

While Los Angeles and Sacramento have vastly different population levels, climates, and cultures, they shared a common theme at the University of California at Davis’ Aviation Symposium in Costa Mesa; lessons learned from implementing Optimized Profile Descent (OPD) procedures at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Mather Airport (MHR). ESA Airports National Director, Steve Alverson, moderated a panel to share lessons learned from recent OPD efforts. Panelists included Scott Tatro representing LAX; Glen Rickelton representing MHR; Brian Bergman, a local community member; and Steve May, an FAA representative familiar with both OPD efforts.

After brief introductory presentations, Steve and the panel members had a dialogue with Symposium attendees about the different approaches employed at both airports to develop and implement OPD procedures. At LAX, the OPD was initiated, vetted, and implemented internally by the FAA. While at MHR, the development of the OPD utilized the FAA’s 18-step process for implementing new procedures, which included extensive collaboration between the FAA, the airport operator, an air cargo carrier, and local community representatives as well as public presentations to elected officials.

While the OPDs at both airports are intended to reduce noise, fuel burn, and air emissions, residents in La Habra Heights (about 25 nautical miles east of LAX) noticed increased aircraft noise levels after OPD implementation. Examination of the aircraft altitude data by both Los Angeles World Airports and FAA revealed that aircraft were approximately 600 to 1,000 feet lower over the community of La Habra Heights after OPD implementation. As a result of this unintended consequence, FAA invested a great deal of time and effort after OPD implementation to address community concerns. Due to a lack of pre- and post-OPD noise measurements, it was impossible to determine if the noise levels have increased or decreased in La Habra Heights as a result of the OPD.

While the MHR OPD effort had a greater community outreach effort and more robust before and after noise measurements, full implementation has been delayed due to air traffic controllers’ failure to consistently issue the procedure and pilots’ failure to consistently fly the procedure as filed. As a result, airport staff has worked hard to get the pilots and controllers on the same page, so the benefits of the MHR OPD can be realized.

In both cases, full and ongoing collaboration with all of the stakeholders will be the key to achieving the greatest benefits of these OPD procedures, while minimizing the likelihood of unintended consequences. Please click on the following links to read about more of the lessons learned from the panel member’s presentations: OVERVIEW, LAX OPD, and MHR OPD.

Need assistance with OPD implementation or development at your airport? Please contact Steve Alverson at salverson@esassoc.com or 916.564.4500 for more information.

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