How will the FAA’s proposal impact Amelia Island?

By Mike Lednovich

It won’t happen next week, next month, or even this year. But in the not-too-distant future, the skies over Amelia Island are about to change, and not for the better for those who cherish serenity.

That’s because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants to expand its controlled airspace to include the majority of Amelia Island. Due to increased concerns over the safety of airliners and other aircraft landing at Jacksonville International Airport, the FAA wants to increase the area designated as “Class C” airspace to include most of Amelia Island. Class C airspace is a designation used by the FAA to define airspace around Jacksonville International Airport that is designed to provide controlled airspace for the safety and efficiency of air traffic operations.

Currently, Amelia Island and airplanes operating at Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport are operating in what the FAA defines as “uncontrolled airspace.” Pilots flying in uncontrolled airspace are where air traffic control (ATC) services are not provided. In uncontrolled airspace over Amelia Island, pilots are responsible for their own navigation and separation from other aircraft.

Fernandina Beach Airport Director Sam Carver said the impact of the FAA’s plan would be more airplane noise and increased air traffic over the island.

“In uncontrolled airspace, a pilot doesn’t have to talk with an air traffic controller,” Carver told city commissioners at their Tuesday workshop. “This has a potential big impact not just on the airport, but for the community.”

Carver said the FAA is concerned because when pilots depart Fernandina’s airport, “they (the FAA) do not have communication and sometimes the aircraft (jetliners approaching Jacksonville) get too close together. That causes a conflict incident. They’re (the FAA) trying to prevent that from happening.”

Carver said the FAA plan would create a 1,200-foot-altitude floor over the airport and a 4,000-foot ceiling.

“So under 1,200 feet, pilots would not have to talk to Jacksonville (air traffic control).  But that’s a very compressed area and that’s why our local pilots have a concern about it,” Carver said. “Private pilots will typically try to avoid Class C airspace. It’s kind of intimidating talking to the tower when most of the time you don’t have to. The concern our pilots have is it’s going to create more traffic under that 1,200-foot floor.  Another concern is it could create more noise over a noise sensitive area.”

Current Class C airspace rings (left) and proposed FAA expanded Class C (right) over Amelia Island.

Mayor Bradley Bean asked how likely the FAA was to impose the new Class C restrictions over Amelia Island.

“Based on past experience, I’ve talked to some other people who have been involved in this process, they (FAA) typically get what they want. They can claim safety and that’s their concern and if they can show it, they’ll get it.”

Carver, who is part of an ad hoc group advising the FAA on the proposal, said the FAA was adamant about increasing the safety of airliners approaching Jacksonville airport.

“They gave some pretty compelling arguments. They played some recordings where airliners coming pretty close (to other aircraft near Amelia Island) where they had to take some pretty quick actions,” Carver said. “The FAA wants to (be able) to talk to the pilots so they know what they’re doing. But they (FAA) may be getting rid of one safety concern while creating another.”

According to FAA records provided for the city commission workshop, Fernandina Municipal Airport conducts about 60,000 air traffic operations a year.

The FAA cited aircraft activity over and near Amelia Island as the cause for the safety concerns.

“Unidentified aircraft with unverified mode C altitudes transitioning and loitering on the edge of the existing Class C causing IFR (instrument flight rules) to VFR (visual flight rules) conflicts with JAX arrivals and departures,” the FAA said in information provided by Carver. “VFR departures from FHB (Fernandina) climbing into the JAX Runway 26 final (approach airspace) are resulting in immediate conflict alerts.”

Unverified Mode C altitudes refers to altitude information transmitted by an aircraft’s Mode C transponder that has not been confirmed or cross-checked by Jacksonville air traffic control.

The FAA said there had been 200 conflict alerts reported in four months. These conflicts often involve two or more aircraft on converging flight paths or at dangerously close distances. When conflict alerts occur, an air traffic controller takes immediate action to resolve the situation, which may involve issuing instructions to pilots to alter their flight paths, altitudes, or speeds to maintain a safe separation distance.

The FAA reported that airliner traffic into Jacksonville has increased 8% in 2024 over 2023 during the same time period.

Carver explained that in talking with local pilots, they have concerns about flight delays.

“Typically when it gets busy, they (pilots) don’t want to mess with (air traffic control) and there’s a lot of wait time and concerns about that. If more people are getting compressed and choose to stay under 1,200 feet it’s going to cause more congestion.”

Carver explained that airliners approaching Jacksonville runway 26 are at about 4,000 feet altitude coming over the southern portion of Amelia Island. He said the FAA goal is to create more distance separation between the airliners and other aircraft traffic.

Carver said the FAA proposal could also have a negative impact on aviation businesses at the airport.

“Could be maintenance or people avoiding the airport (because of the restrictions),” Carver said.

Nathan Coyle, general manager of Bent Wing Flight Services based at Fernandina wrote to the FAA and said, “During the presentation from the FAA at the ad hoc meeting in February, it was expressed on a slide that the Class C proposed amendments were in an effort to protect safety related to growth in future operations at JAX. I recommend that this committee consider a revised overall goal that is to equally support and protect safety related to growth/activity at all airports in the region as well as surrounding airspace in lieu of prioritizing JAX.”

He added that “FHB (Fernandina airport) is also growing, and should be an equal priority/goal to accommodate as a part of these discussions. There are a multitude of aeronautical businesses that rely on safe/efficient operations at FHB and the surrounding airspace daily.”

Carver told commissioners the airport’s two skydiving businesses would be affected.

“It could have a serious impact on their businesses. They (FAA) typically don’t allow skydivers in Class C airspace. Now I was told they could, but they’d have to get permission (from air traffic control) and they could make them go up and they’re flying around waiting to get clearance (to enter the Class C airspace),” Carver said.

SkyDive Amelia has been operating from the Fernandina Municipal Airport since 2005. Owner Randy Fortner has been educating himself on the restrictions of Class C airspace.

“We’re hoping we can get a letter of agreement with the FAA to operate much like we have since we’ve opened,” Fortner said. “But it’s kind of up to the FAA on what happens next. If we can’t work out a process that would shut us down.”

Fortner said it’s very early in the process with the FAA about expanding the Class C boundaries to plan future business strategies. SkyDive Amelia conducts about 750 flights per year according to Fortner.

Next steps in the process according to Carver are for the ad hoc committee to conduct an informal airspace meeting to discuss the FAA proposal and possible solutions to the aircraft conflict problem. After the ad hoc committee makes those recommendations, the FAA would issue a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).”

The FAA NPRM outlines the proposed regulatory changes, provides justification for the proposed action, and typically invites public comments. After the NPRM is published, there is usually a specified period during which interested parties, including industry stakeholders, individuals, and organizations, can submit comments, feedback, or concerns regarding the proposed regulations.

The FAA considers these comments during the rule-making process before issuing a final rule.

Carver told the city commissioners that the NPRM process is an essential part of ensuring transparency, accountability, and public participation in the development of aviation regulations. It allows for input from various stakeholders and helps the FAA make informed decisions about regulatory changes.

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Douglas M
Noble Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
1 month ago

From an FAA document:

Generally, airspace from the surface to 4,000 feet above the airport elevation (charted in MSL) surrounding those airports that have an operational control tower, are serviced by a radar approach control, and have a certain number of IFR operations or passenger enplanements. Although the configuration of each Class C area is individually tailored, the airspace usually consists of a surface area with a 5 NM radius, an outer circle with a 10 NM radius that extends from 1,200 feet to 4,000 feet above the airport elevation and an outer area. Each aircraft must establish two-way radio communications with the ATC facility providing air traffic services prior to entering the airspace and thereafter maintain those communications while within the airspace.

It’s not overly onerous and I think JAX and the FAA will work things out with FHB. Most don’t want the hassle of talking to ATC and prefer the “Big Sky…..little plane” freedom route. The skydiving ops will have to communicate and announce “jumpers away” to ATC so they can warn others (frankly, if they haven’t been communicating already, that could be a current safety issue. Some airliners come over the island at some fairly low altitudes).

I think most of your general aviation “freedom” flyers will just nudge out more toward the ocean to avoid the airspace as they pass the island……so it may be beneficial from a noise point of view.

J Bunch
Active Member
J Bunch(@j-bunch)
1 month ago

60,000 air traffic operations per year at Fernandina, That’s 164 a day, Out of those landings, less than 20 actually stop and drop off passengers. The others are called touch and go and that’s usually 5 to sometimes 10 planes doing landing and then taking off without stopping, then circles around the airport and repeats. This happens every day of the week and we homeowners around the airport (40+ years for me) never get any quality time outside anymore since the flight schools in Jacksonville started to use our airport more often. They use us because the airports in Jacksonville are controlled.
I am not against the airport at all, I don’t mind at all when a private jet comes in as they are quick and they park. The propeller planes are very irritating and I believe that our city should require landing fees and enforce the noise abatement regulations around the airport. This may push the Duval flight schools and others who want to do touch and go’s somewhere else. The parachute plane is the most annoying because instead of flying out say 10 miles over the ocean to gain the altitude for the jump, they circle over the airport for 10 minutes with the loudest sound and then they come back down and start over.
As I mentioned before, I’m not against the airport, I remember the bumper stickers around here “I love airplane noise “. The airport has brought plenty of revenue to the island with the ones that stop but it’s gotten a little bit much with the smaller size planes and constant circling. The ones from Jax don’t purchase fuel here either so, they contribute nothing.
We all (hopefully) knew about the airport when we purchased our homes but we also expected a good quality of life. No matter what the FAA does, the City should study what can be done to push the flight schools away and it will be a lot nicer. Local pilots are local so they pay taxes and contribute to the economy and most are considerate about their noise.

rconrad
Noble Member
rconrad(@conrad2k)
1 month ago

If designating our airspace as “Class C” will reduce the “touch and go” training flights over the island, then I’m all for it. They only create noise pollution and provide no benefit to the island’s residents.

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

From my observation, the majority of air traffic is the touch and go flight school planes and jet traffic coming in from posh Amelia Island events. There really is not much we can do about either. Amelia Island has been found, and all we can do is try to keep it as much as it is now as possible (it all comes down to who you vote for). Another concern with the low level air traffic are disturbances to eagle nests, especially the one on Crane Island.

Richard Timm
Trusted Member
Richard Timm(@rtimm-ontheislandgmail-com)
1 month ago

Mike … When right whales are present off Amelia Island, everything needs to stay 1500 feet away, including boats, planes, paddle boards, people, etc. This means planes will not be able to fly below 1200 feet when flying over a right whale. The potential FAA changes will need to define how this right whale protection will be assured.