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City officials meet with Bell, FAA, Alliance Airport on helicopter traffic

Post Date:04/06/2017

Bell Helicopter routes over Northeast Tarrant County, their impacts on local residents and plans for the future were the topics of discussion on March 30 as Keller officials had the opportunity to meet with city managers and mayors representing other affected cities as well as Bell Helicopter, the Federal Aviation Administration and Alliance Airport. Here’s the latest: 

HISTORY

Regular flights by Bell Helicopter over Keller started once the company moved its global training facility away from Alliance Airport to its northeast Fort Worth campus over the summer of 2015.

Bell Helicopter’s options in selecting routes in this area are limited by a number of factors, including airspace for DFW International Airport, Alliance Airport and Meacham International Airport. Further, on any given day, their flight path can be altered based on weather conditions and other aircraft traffic nearby.

The company’s original flight path used the Hwy. 377 corridor to fly both to and from their training space at Justin Field just north of the Texas Motor Speedway, flying about a 1/4-mile from the highway on each side to provide the distance necessary for helicopters to safely pass each other. In response to complaints from residents along the Hwy. 377 route, Bell officials chose to split the route, traveling northbound along the Rufe Snow corridor and returning south along Hwy. 377.

Bell Route Map Comparison 

Representatives with the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed at the March 30 meeting that Bell’s current route and operations meet established national safety requirements. They and representatives with Alliance Airport also confirmed information that Bell has relayed to city officials in the past regarding the altitude and location restrictions of airspace in this region.

Having Bell operations on a consistent route, at a consistent altitude, creates a safer environment for all air traffic, the FAA shared. Airport representatives concurred on the need for consistency — particularly, they pointed out, because of the high-performance and military aircraft that regularly utilize Alliance Airport airspace from the east.  
VIEW FAA PRESENTATION SLIDES

ROUTE ADJUSTMENTS

Following a public meeting held with affected residents at Keller Town Hall in early August 2016, Bell announced three changes to their flight patterns aimed at diminishing the number of flights along the Rufe Snow/Hwy. 377 routes. These were to divert:

  • The majority of twin-engine helicopters to Arlington and Fort Worth/Meacham airports;
  • Up to 50 percent of operations during low cloud cover days (when helicopters are forced to fly lower to the ground for visibility) to Arlington and Fort Worth/Meacham airports, when the airports are experiencing lower airplane traffic; and
  • Most evening night-vision goggle training flights along the I-35W/I-820 corridor when Alliance Airport has greatly reduced general aviation traffic

Residents along the flight path are expected to see some additional relief within the next 60-90 days as Bell completes negotiations to conduct some of their grass pad landings at an alternate location to the south of Keller. According to Bell, that could reduce overflights by up to 20 percent. 

LONG-TERM SOLUTION

Of most interest to city officials in the room were plans for a permanent solution, a goal of all the affected cities since the new flight path began in 2015. While negotiations are still ongoing, limiting the ability for Bell to disclose sensitive details, the company shared that they hope to announce a long-term solution for those under the flightpath within 90 days.

If all goes according to plan, Bell officials said, residents would see flights along the current routes reduce by half within 12-15 months and disappear completely within two to three years.

COMPLAINTS

Map of Bell Noise Complaint Heat Map Spring 2017

Bell’s presentation also recapped complaints that have been entered into their tracking system at www.bellhelicopter.com/noise since the site’s launch during the summer of 2016.

As of the end of February, 2,429 complaints had been logged in the system representing 150 unique households. It is of course unclear, however, how many concerned residents have not filed complaints in the system.

Bell also noted that of those logged complaints, 78 percent (1,889 complaints) have derived from 10 households. 

NEXT STEPS

Bell has committed to another public town hall meeting within 90 days. Once that date has been selected, it will be advertised on the city website and social media outlets.

In the meantime, additional information on this issue can be found — and noise complaints can be logged — at www.bellhelicopter.com/noise.

*FAA UPDATE

Following the March 30 meeting, Councilman Eric Schmidt submitted some alternate route proposals to the FAA, requesting their consideration. Upon evaluation, the FAA determined that the proposed routes would present too many potential conflicts with other air traffic operations near Alliance Airport. That decision was relayed via email to Councilman Schmidt, Mayor Mark Mathews and City Manager Mark Hafner the following week. READ EMAIL  

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