The Navy is delaying a decision on aircraft practice on Whidbey Island as officials consider potential changes that may significantly reduce the number of flights necessary.
The Navy announced Friday that release of the final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, analyzing an increase of EA-18G Growler aircraft at the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island complex, originally set for autumn of this year, is being extended by 10 months.
Navy officials need extra time to consider accelerated implementation of new technology that may reduce training requirements by about 20 percent.
Officials will also analyze a reduction in the number of pilots assigned to fleet squadrons at NAS Whidbey; the base is looking at two fewer pilots per squadron, which will decrease projected operations, according to the press release.
Noise from the Growlers during field carrier landing practices has been a source of consternation for some, particularly near Outlying Field Coupeville. The group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, voiced concerns about the health impacts of the noise.
Marion Attwood, of COER, said the group feels vindicated that the Navy recognizes the draft EIS was “deeply flawed.”
“COER believes they should open up the whole process and start over again,” she said.
She said the group also expects the Navy to live up to a court order and maintain 6,100 annual operations at OLF Coupeville. The Navy reported that it will maintain operations at the level described in the 2005 Environmental Assessment.
The Navy is also considering options for the distribution of the training operations between OLF Coupeville and Ault Field in Oak Harbor.
Since landing on an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous tasks in military aviation, the Navy is developing technology to make it easier and safer. The result is the fleet-wide implementation of “precision landing mode” technology. It’s also known by the acronym MAGIC CARPET, which stands for Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies.
The technology makes approaches and landings more automated. It’s been so successful that Navy officials decided to accelerate fleet-wide implementation.
The press release says that the Navy believes full integration of the technology will result in 20 percent reductions in field carrier landing practices at Ault Field and OLF Coupeville.
The Navy presented an example: Reduction in flight because of the technology and reduced number of pilots combined would result, under Alternative 2 in the EIS, in the reduction of operations from 42,000 annually to about 29,000.