News Article - May 07 2006

DelCo council grounds FAA’s new flight paths
  The Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to create new flight paths out of Philadelphia International Airport and over surrounding municipalities crashed and burned at Tuesday’s Delaware County Council meeting. Though it holds no jurisdiction over the FAA, council passed a unanimous resolution that shot down all three of the agency’s proposals, claiming they threaten the quality of life for 100,000 residents and 39,000 households in the county. "They have to come up with a different solution," Chairman Andrew Reilly said Wednesday.

   Citing increased noise and potential safety hazards, Councilman John Whelan said the airplanes should be restricted to flying over the Delaware River -- not the center of the county. "What they’re saying is they want to put more planes in the air over Delaware County," Whelan said. In December, the FAA released a draft environmental impact statement that includes three airspace redesign proposals to alleviate delays at Philadelphia and 20 other airports in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Connecticut. One of the plans would addnew flight paths out of Philadelphia and over Tinicum.

   "All three of them bring additional traffic and noise levels over parts of Delaware County," said Tom Shaffer, the county’s manager of transportation planning. In addition to Tinicum, Shaffer said the FAA’s proposals could affect Ridley Township and Ridley Park, Norwood, Prospect Park, Rutledge, Morton, Parkside, Nether Providence, Swarthmore and Springfield. Council is urging the FAA to choose a fourth, "no action" alternative, under which the airport would continue to operate under existing conditions.

   But FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the air traffic structure in the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia metropolitan area has not undergone significant modifications since the 1960s to keep up with increased flight volume and new types of aircraft and technology. Philadelphia International Airport, which is operated by the city but located primarily in Delaware County, is the ninth busiest airport in the world, according to Airports Council International. Among major U.S. airports, it is among the worst performers in terms of delayed arrivals and departures -- and it could get worse if no action is taken.

   "Of all the airports involved in the study, the projected growth in operations is greatest at Philadelphia International Airport," Peters said. With average flight delays expected to exceed 25 minutes in the next decade, the airport is considering a long-term capacity enhancement program and is preparing to reroute Route 291 this summer to extend runway 17-35, which runs north to south. The latter plan is expected to ease congestion on the airport’s main east-to-west runways. County council’s opposition to the airspace redesign could have little effect, given that the FAA approved the 17-35 extension despite resistance from residents and politicians at the local, state and federal level.

   Reilly said Tuesday’s resolution would be sent to the FAA, U.S. Reps. Curt Weldon and Robert Brady, and U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum. "This is only going to further burden the quality of life of many other towns in the heart of the county," Reilly said. "Hopefully, the FAA will keep an open mind." Weldon spokesman John Tomaszewski said the congressman is "adamantly opposed" to additional flights over his district and has written to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. "We’re all over this," Tomaszewski said. "We’re opposed to it and we’re going to fight it."

   County officials believe the FAA, or perhaps the U.S. Department of Transportation, should consider Amtrak and other modes of transportation to meet the demand for air travel. "That’s really a shortcoming of this whole process," Shaffer said. The FAA will issue a final environmental impact study in the last quarter of this year that will indicate the agency’s preferred plan. A decision will be made about 30 days later and the implementation will depend on the availability of capital funds.

Source - Delco Times