News Article - March 13, 2007

Foes of airport noise get a promise  
  The chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Federal Aviation Administration promised Delaware County leaders yesterday that lawmakers would give serious consideration to their opposition to an FAA plan that could direct more airplanes over their communities. Rep. Jerry Costello (D., Ill.) tied the worries about aircraft noise expressed by people living close to Philadelphia International Airport to legislation his aviation subcommittee will consider to fund the FAA for an additional four years. Costello's subcommittee is scheduled this week to start a series of five hearings on a Bush administration proposal that would change the formula the federal government uses to pay for the air-traffic control system, and on legislation to reauthorize the agency for four years.

   Costello was invited to the Tinicum Township building by Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) to hear more than two hours of statements from county and township leaders and a panel of experts Sestak assembled. They offered counterarguments to the FAA's plan to redesign the airspace in the Philadelphia and New York areas. The FAA has spent almost nine years studying how to reduce air-traffic delays at Philadelphia International and four New York-area airports by changing takeoff and landing patterns. The agency is expected later this month to reveal its first choice among four alternatives.

   The FAA has said previously that the alternative that would help reduce delays at Philadelphia the most would fan departing aircraft in five directions over Delaware County and South Jersey. Planes departing the airport to the west now stay primarily over the Delaware River until they are above 3,000 feet, reducing the noise heard on the ground. The FAA plan also faces stiff opposition in some communities in North Jersey, southwestern Connecticut and southern New York state. It has been endorsed by airlines and the CEO Council for Growth, a unit of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which points out that the regional economy suffers because Philadelphia has one of the nation's worst records for on-time flights.

   Costello, in an interview after the meeting, said he did not know whether Congress had ever acted to keep the FAA from implementing a similar kind of long-term study. "But I can tell you that all of the FAA's programs will expire and will need reauthorization... and the panelists made excellent points," he said.

   Members of the expert panel and others said that fanned departures could seriously damage the quality of life in nearby communities. Shirley Loveless, a Temple University research fellow who specializes in how transportation policies affect communities, said the FAA's environmental-impact study had failed to look at numerous quality-of-life and transportation-planning issues.

   Among the questions left unanswered by the study are the potential effects on the health of residents who would hear more aircraft noise, said Loveless, who lives in Rose Valley. Sestak said he was aware of the importance of the airport and aviation to the regional economy, "but you can't let the quality of life go down."

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer