Ex-FAA official says air traffic plan flawed|
By EILEEN STILWELL Courier-Post Staff A former senior executive with the Federal Aviation Administration says the agency's preferred plan for reconfiguring airspace over the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania metropolitan area is inefficient, misleading, incomplete and will do little to reduce passenger delays. If the FAA's preferred plan is adopted, it would nearly double the flights departing east from Philadelphia at lower altitudes, increasing noise and air pollution along the new paths. How significant the changes would be appear to be in dispute. George Williams, a former senior executive with FAA, recently filed a detailed report advising the FAA to start over again. Now an officer in an aviation consulting firm based in Queen Creek, Ariz., Williams was hired by an anti-noise group, called Quiet Skies, out of Mamaroneck, Larchmont and New Rochelle, N.Y., to analyze thousands of pages of technical data in the FAA's draft environmental impact statement. "The FAA isn't lying," he said. "They're just not carrying their analyses far enough. It's like saying, "No, I didn't take $10 from your wallet,' when I really took $9." The FAA has conducted 29 hearings on four alternative plans in the region, including one meeting in March in Paulsboro. It has stated its preference for an integrated plan that would fan traffic out and down to create more routes to reduce congestion and improve safety. If approved, it would require a federal investment of $150 million to $250 million. Anything that ramps up aircraft noise would be "awful," said Oaklyn resident Michelle Westcoat, who spent this past holiday weekend with her windows closed so she could concentrate on a writing assignment. "By midday Sunday I was ready to lose my mind. When I timed it, the planes happened about once every minute and 10 seconds. I never heard so much air traffic in my life, and I can't imagine what it would be like if it got any worse," said Westcoat. The deadline for public comment, which was slated to close Thursday, has been extended to July 1 at the request of residents and public officials, including U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-Cliffside Park, said Jim Peters, regional FAA spokesman. While the impact statement focused on four major airports: Philadelphia International, JFK, Newark and LaGuardia, Philadelphia was singled out for ranking last in on-time departures last year among the 33 largest airfields in the U.S. All delays are not created equal, nor are they all preventable, said Williams. For example, nearly 84 percent of all delays encountered at Philadelphia International Airport between 1999 and 2004 were weather-related and would not be resolved by the proposed changes, said the consultant. Equipment failure, runway congestion and staffing also drive delays, but none would be reduced by the proposed changes. The FAA skewed numbers dramatically in support of its preferred plan by studying only 21 out of 118 airports in the region, Williams noted in his report. In addition, military traffic was omitted, as well. The FAA also manipulated the fleet mix by taking all aircraft weighing less than 255,000 pounds and reclassifying them as regional jets. By taking larger and noisier aircraft out of the mix and substituting much quieter regional jets, it was able to show no significant noise impacts, Williams said. "The whole project should be scrapped. The FAA used assumptions that couldn't happen, and they overstated projected growth in operations. More passengers don't necessarily mean more planes. Airlines will just add larger aircraft," said Williams. Recently, the largest carriers announced plans to reduce the number of flights this summer to control costs. Peters said he had not seen the Williams study, which is being prepared for inclusion in the public record. "We stand by our noise modeling studies and there has been no manipulation of data," he said. The final environmental impact study will be released in December. In January, the FAA will decide which of the four alternative plans, including one calling for no change, to implement. Implementation will depend on a cost/benefit analysis and availability of federal funds, said Peters. Robert Belzer, president of the New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise, agrees with Williams that the gains in delay reduction would be too small to justify the proposed changes.