Navy delays release of Environmental Impact Statement on Growlers

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 the release of the final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, analyzing an increase of EA-18G Growler aircraft at the NAS Whidbey Island complex, originally scheduled for autumn of this year, is being extended for about 10 months.

Navy officials need extra time to consider accelerated implementation of new technology that may reduce training requirements by an estimated 20 percent. In addition, officials will analyze a reduction in the number of pilots assigned to fleet squadrons at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island; the base is looking at two fewer pilots per squadron, which will decrease projected operations, according to the press release.

The noise caused by the Growlers during field carrier landing practice has been a source of consternation for some, particularly those who live near Outlying Field Coupeville. The group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, has voiced concerns about the health impacts of the noise.

Marion Attwood of COER said the group feels vindicated that the Navy has recognized the draft EIS was “deeply flawed” in not addressing a variety of issues.

“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 new options for the distribution of the training operations between OLF Coupeville and the Ault Field Base in Oak Harbor.

Since landing on an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous tasks in military aviation, the Navy has been developing a 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 essentially 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 significant reductions in field carrier landing practice at both Ault Field and OLF Coupeville. A 20 percent reduction is estimated.

The Navy presented an example: The reduction in flight because of the new technology and the 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.

“The Navy appreciates the concerns and input provided by members of the community surrounding NAS Whidbey Island and OLF Coupeville,” the Navy reports, “and will address comments that were received during the public comment period that followed the release of the Draft EIS in the final version of the document.”

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