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Sun, Apr 08, 2007

FAA's PHL Noise Reduction Plan Doesn't Satisfy

Area Officials, Residents Want More Changes

Corroborating the adage that you can't make everyone happy all of the time, the FAA's newly revised proposed changes to its plan to reroute traffic leaving PHL to reduce aircraft noise on the ground has once again been met with local criticism.

The FAA modified the headings of flights departing PHL over South Jersey based on objections from residents and officials, said FAA spokesman Jim Peters.

"We dropped one heading that would have sent aircraft over Gloucester and Salem counties. Now, the new track will shift over Camden County creating new impacts, but they are slight to moderate. Based on our modeling, we see no significant noise increase," he said.

The report, released Friday, included the FAA saying there would be only a small loss of "operational efficiency" to the air traffic system, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Operational efficiency refers to the agency's goal of reducing delays for airliners and other planes that now follow more circuitous, time-consuming paths in the sky before reaching cruising altitude. PHL and airports in the New York area have some of the worst records for on-time flights, and one reason is the inefficiency of the current air-traffic routing system, according to the FAA.

The FAA began working on changing the airspace over the Northeast nine years ago. It held a series of public meetings last year.

The new plan calls for directing pilots to use only three departure paths, as opposed to the six departure paths proposed by the FAA twp weeks ago for planes taking off to the west, which would have impacted a larger geographic area.

Two Delaware County officials were quick to call the revisions inadequate and unacceptable.

"What Delaware County wants is for the planes to fly over the river until they reach a 3,000-foot altitude, and, at that point, make their turns over the county, or (New) Jersey, or wherever they are heading," said Andrew J. Reilly, chairman of the Delaware County Council.

"Our experts contend that, by flying planes over Delaware County immediately after takeoff, all you're doing is putting more off-ramps onto the overcrowded highway in the sky," he added.

The new FAA report includes a consultant's report that determined air traffic departing PHL at night was light enough that planes could continue to fly down the Delaware River as they do now, reaching 3,000 feet before they turn over residential areas.

"Reducing the number of available departure headings at PHL from six headings to three headings would allow for some relief of the expected noise impacts while minimizing the loss of operational efficiency," the report said.

Although Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) praised the departure-headings change, he declared that the report fell short.

"There's been some progress, but it's inadequate," he said.

Sestak, who has a meeting with FAA Administrator Marion Blakey April 20, noted the FAA's environmental-impact statement did not account for the effect noise has on people's health, education and safety, the environment, and property values.

"Statistical studies have shown that this level of noise impacts people's health, education, their safety and the environment," he said. "None of this is accounted for in the process."

Sestak said he would support taking the FAA to court to delay the flight-path changes, but recognizes that "the FAA has won 12 of the 13 times that they have been sued."

Meanwhile, according to Reilly, the report did not fully address three key areas: not accurately accounting for the causes of delays at PHL; not including all aerial traffic in the FAA's model; and excluding 80 percent of the area's airports.

"While the FAA is boasting that their mitigation report mitigates the additional noise caused by their plan, they shouldn't even implement the plan, because there is no significant operational benefits from it," he said. "We should be talking about eliminating the noise, not mitigating it."

Nina Walls, a retired teacher from Ridley Park, PA, said the benefits of the new flight patterns aren't worth the impact on the quality of life, referring to increased noise and pollution and the safety threat posed by planes flying over schools and homes.

"Most people I've talked to in Ridley Park are dead-set against anything except keeping them over the river," she said.

Walls, like several of the area's politicians, wants the FAA to consider offloading some of the burden on airports in Atlantic City, Allentown, and elsewhere in the region.

"From our point of view," she said, "it doesn't seem like there is enough benefit to be doing what they're doing."

The FAA's airspace-redesign plan has been endorsed, however, by the CEO Council for Growth, a component of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, as a way to improve the regional economy by reducing airline delays.
The FAA will hold five public hearings on the noise-reduction study, one each in the states affected.

If the FAA's decision is allowed to stand, new flight paths could begin this summer.

FMI: www.faa.gov/airports_airtraffic/air_traffic/nas_redesign/regional_guidance/eastern_reg/nynjphl_redesign

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