October 8, 2004
Arizona’s top air traffic controller and a consultant who helped map flight paths for Williams Gateway Airport are at odds over where airplanes departing from the southeast Mesa airport will fly.
The flight paths are an issue because the Mesa City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote Nov. 15 on whether to amend the general plan to allow homes to be built on 600 acres at Elliot and Ellsworth roads. This is the second consecutive year LKY Development has tried to win the change.
Councilman Tom Rawles said it isn’t the government’s place to decide where people live. "I don’t think it’s a problem to have homes in the flight path as long as the people who live there are fully informed,’’ he said.
Knowing the path of future air traffic will help determine land use — residential or industrial — around the airport, which is being marketed as a potential passenger and cargo reliever for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
On Thursday, the council brought in Warren Meehan, air traffic manager over most of the state’s airports, to get his read on how likely pilots are to fly over property at Elliot and Ellsworth roads. City officials want to set aside the area for industrial use, but the landowners want to build homes.
Councilman Rex Griswold said he’s been confused over the issue, because "the city’s party line has been that all the planes will go down below the power lines (which run east to west halfway between Elliot and Guadalupe roads), and all the pilots I talk to are saying we can’t turn that fast."
Meehan said most airplanes will continue to make a sharp turn to the east after takeoff, with many flying directly over the property in question. "Where you see them at now is exactly where you’ll see them at in the future," Meehan said.
But he added that once the Federal Aviation Administration puts into place a new computer-based air traffic control system, known as RNAV, those flight tracks will likely run north of the power line and closer to U.S. 60, which will take the planes farther west of the proposed development.
Mike Tragarz, an airline pilot who was part of a group that mapped the proposed RNAV paths and is now a consultant for the residential developers, said Meehan’s statement that RNAV-directed planes would fly farther north is an affirmation of the group’s work.
"I think they’re finally getting it," he said. "I think they are finally telling that side of the story."
He added that Meehan shouldn’t assume traffic would continue to use the older flight paths, and the FAA in general is too busy keeping planes from crashing into each other today to make accurate projections about the future.
Tragarz said about 90 percent of traffic out of Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport uses the RNAV paths, a pattern generally determined by pilots and cities, not the FAA.
Meehan responded that McCarran’s situation is more like Sky Harbor, the hub that all other Valley airports must accommodate, than Williams Gateway, where planes must stay as far south of U.S. 60 as possible if they want to avoid competing with Sky Harbor traffic.
The "fly-friendly" procedure, designed to minimize flights over residential areas, directs pilots to follow the power line between Guadalupe and Elliot as they proceed east. Mesa’s general plan limits the number of homes that can be built below that point.
Griswold said he is still inclined to vote against the general plan amendment due to the risks to Mesa and homeowners.