Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Groups sue to keep Newport Coast Guard base



NEWPORT, Ore. (KOIN 6) — The Newport Fisherman’s Wives Group is among those filing a lawsuit to stop the planned closing of the Newport Coast Guard air base. Wyden, Merkley and Schrader promised to do everything possible to keep the Coast Guard helicopter in Newport.


The suit claims the Coast Guard move would be “a death sentence to commercial fishermen” and it says Coast Guard helicopters that would now have to come from Astoria or North Bend “cannot reach central Oregon coast victims in the 30 to 45 minutes that is recognized as the normal survival window in these cold ocean waters.”

The wives, the City of Newport, Lincoln County and the Port of Newport addressed the media Tuesday afternoon.

“I understand budgets and funding and while that is compelling, you can’t tell a family that this was the excuse given,” said Jennifer Stevenson of the Newport Fishermen’s Wives. “This is a huge importance to us.”

The Coast Guard officials said they’ve made big investments in technology and communication to locate people in trouble while on the open sea. They also say having rescue helicopters at Astoria and North Bend mean they still comply with federal search and rescue response standards.

But that is cold comfort for people like Lincoln County commissioner Terry Thompson, who had a fire aboard one of his own fishing boats. He said it was “a long wait” until that Coast Guard helicopter arrived.

“You can’t believe how happy I was to see that come over the horizon,” Thompson said.

The suit seeks immediate action from a federal judge in Eugene to keep the Coast Guard helicopter in Newport. The air facility was initially set to close November 30, but that date has been moved to December 15.

In late October, following a plea from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, Congressman Kurt Schrader, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, members of the Newport Fisherman’s Wives Group, along with commercial fishermen and coastal first responders, the U.S. Coast Guard delayed the closure of the Newport helicopter facility.


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New satellite technology promises smoother, quieter descents into KBWI airport

Fliers arriving in the Baltimore region this holiday season may notice smoother descents into BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, while residents in Towson and other area suburbs might hear a bit less noise overhead.

Thanks to new state-of-the-art satellite technology installed at the Anne Arundel County airport this month, arriving planes from the northwest now are able to drop from cruising altitude to the runway in a "smooth, continuous arc," rather than the "traditional staircase descent" they've used in the past, the Federal Aviation Administration said this week.

The technology is part of the nation's NextGen system that the FAA, which handles air traffic control, has been tasked with rolling out at airports across the country, to the tune of $40 billion in federal and airline funding.

The system will eventually take BWI and other major airports from 1940s radar technology "basically to what we all have in our pockets with GPS," said Paul Wiedefeld, the airport's CEO.

"I think it's something that's decades late," he said — and he's not alone.

Last week, several members of Congress expressed frustration at a House Transportation Committee hearing with what they perceived to be the slow pace of the FAA's NextGen rollout.

The FAA responded in part Sunday by promoting the Nov. 13 launch of the satellite technology at BWI, which it says makes the Washington region "the first in the nation to have three state-of-the-art, satellite-based highways in the sky running side by side by side, each dedicated to one of the three major airports in the region."

The system is in place at Washington Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport.

"The national capital region is reaping the benefits of NextGen and this announcement further highlights how the federal government is making a difference," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

Wiedefeld said BWI's position in the region, which also includes Joint Base Andrews Airport, made the need for improvement even greater than in other areas of the country.

"Anything they can do to basically make that easier for everybody, both the pilots and the air traffic controllers, is a good thing, because it's a complicated airspace," he said.

Michael Huerta, the FAA's administrator, said in a statement on the BWI launch that the "whole point of NextGen is to get air travelers to their destinations safely and on time," which is "never more important than during the busy holiday season."

The so-called Optimized Profile Descent routes allow airlines to save time in the air, increase the likelihood of on-time arrivals and departures, and reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, officials said.

The FAA estimated airlines will burn at least 2.5 million fewer gallons of fuel and emit 25,000 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide in the region's skies annually.

Wiedefeld said that noise will also be cut in areas where planes used to make "step downs" in their descents, including over Towson. "The stepdowns create quite a bit of noise," he said.

Southwest Airlines — BWI's predominant carrier — questioned the benefits of the program to date.

"The premise of NextGen procedures is to create greater efficiencies through fuel conserving descents and reductions in miles flown, as well as a reduction in greenhouse gases and noise," said Rick Dalton, Southwest's director of airspace and flow management, in a statement. "Early indicators at BWI, one of the busiest airports, suggest that the new procedures are not delivering those results and are adding complexities within our operation. We will continue to evaluate the procedures and collect data on perceived efficiencies moving forward."

Future work will introduce satellite-based departure routes at BWI, the FAA said, though a spokesman said he did not have a specific date for the expansion.

Officials at BWI said the airport has also made recent progress in its multiyear project to bring its runways up to federal standards by the end of next year.

On Saturday, the airport reopened one of its primary commercial runways, which has been closed since July for reconstruction, for the Thanksgiving travel period, when AAA Mid-Atlantic has estimated 72,800 Marylanders will fly between Wednesday and Sunday.

Additional work on the runway will require subsequent closures through the end of the year, but flight disruptions are not expected.

- Source:  http://www.baltimoresun.com