News Article - March 24, 2007

FAA Picks Plan To Make Airspace More Efficient  
  (AP) WASHINGTON The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday said it has chosen a new flight pattern for the congested airspace around New York and Philadelphia that will ease delays, but also lead to noisy jets flying over some communities for the first time. The redesign plan involves alterations to the airborne highways over 31,000 square miles in five states, and will usher in changes big and small for people living near the new routes.

   FAA officials said the option they selected, over three competing plans, will bring desperately needed efficiency to a patchwork airspace map that has been unchanged since the 1960s. The new system will save an estimated 12 million minutes in delays a year at the region’s four major airports—a reduction the FAA said could save the airlines as much as $720 million a year.

   The downside will be that some people in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut will hear planes rumbling overhead for the first time. Some elected officials immediately assailed the FAA’s plan for not doing enough to keep planes away from people’s homes.

   U.S. senators Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg, both New Jersey Democrats, said the plan would bring unacceptable, elevated noise levels to 300,000 people in the state, particularly in northern Bergen County, Gloucester County, Essex County, and Union County. “Your proposal will have massive negative quality of life implications for hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans, and reduce property values for many in our state,” the senators wrote in a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. They called on the plan to be reevaluated “with aircraft noise reduction as a major design element.”

   U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, a Democrat whose district lies just west of Philadelphia International Airport, said Congress should intervene and prevent the plan from being implemented. “The idea is to say, ‘What do we need to do to hold off here and see planning done appropriately, and be a model for the future?”’ FAA program manager Steve Kelley said the agency is working on a variety of plans to ease noise, like routing planes over less densely populated areas and having jets descend in a way that uses less engine power.

   The $50 million, six-year redesign involved an analysis of the approach and departure routes from 21 airports, but it will have its biggest effect on John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, Philadelphia International and LaGuardia. Those four airports, along with Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, had the highest percentage of delayed flights in 2006.

   Increased air travel is expected to make things even worse over the next decade. “If we do nothing to address those delays, that traffic will increase and the delays will increase in turn,” Kelley said. The essence of the FAA’s plan involves expanding and simplifying the space in which planes going to and from the airports are allowed to operate.

   The FAA rejected plans that would kept the system as-is, made milder modifications to existing routes, or sent more planes out over the Atlantic Ocean. Final approval of the proposal won’t take place until at least August. The FAA plans to spend the next few months discussing ways to reduce noise in communities that will be seeing more flights.

Source - AP