The Federal Aviation Administration unveiled a proposal Thursday night that would require small planes to fly at lower altitudes over Mesa homes.
The plan, which wouldn’t be approved for at least a year, also called for larger commercial planes to fly lower over Apache Junction.
Roughly 100 pilots and residents attended the meeting at Arizona State University Polytechnic, at Williams Gateway Airport. People who attended raised concerns about more potential noise complaints and the safety of low-flying small planes.
Donna Guzzone, who lives just outside Apache Junction, was not pleased that commercial planes, which now fly at 8,000 feet over the area on their way to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, would be allowed to fly as low as 5,000 feet.
“One of the reasons I moved 40 miles from an airport is because Apache Junction doesn’t have an airport,” Guzzone said.
Warren Meehan, FAA western regional operations manager, acknowledges some people disagree with the proposal, but said the airspace redesign is necessary to provide a greater buffer between smaller general aviation aircraft and commercial airliners coming into Sky Harbor and to allow more planes to land at Sky Harbor during bad weather.
The FAA presented a slide show that showed on radar a large commercial airliner barely missing a smaller plane over Mesa just east of Sky Harbor. Meehan reminded people of a midair collision over Cerritos, Calif., about 20 years ago between a commercial airliner and small plane.
“We are separating commercial from general aviation to keep those airplanes apart,” Meehan said.
The proposal would also bring more planes per hour over Mesa during bad weather, but no more than are currently being flown during good weather. It will not affect flight paths.
This will not lower commercial airliner altitudes over Mesa, but could lower general aviation aircraft primarily between Dobson and Gilbert roads, FAA officials said. Currently, general aviation aircraft are allowed to fly between 1,000 feet and 2,900 feet above homes. If adopted, the proposal will compress that range between 1,000 feet and 2,600 feet, moving some of these aircraft, and possibly helicopters, closer to the ground.
The redesign would affect the airspace in the Valley and allow Sky Harbor to land nearly as many planes during bad weather as good weather, which is necessary because local delays can cause backups around the country, FAA officials said.
Mesa Councilman Rex Griswold said he would like a greater emphasis on creating airspace for Williams Gateway Airport, rather than developing ways to increase Sky Harbor capacity.
“The FAA is always driven by how they can get more planes into Sky Harbor, but should be using a reliever (airport) model to see how to get less planes, not try to cram more,” Griswold said.
Mesa resident and general aviation pilot Paul Green said the proposal would not affect how he would fly, and still keep a minimum height for small planes.
“I can’t say I’m ready to support it or not support it, but it struck me as not unreasonable,” Green said.
The FAA held a meeting earlier this week in Glendale and another is planned for Tuesday at Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix. The agency will accept public comments until June 3. The process is expected to take another year, Meehan said.