News Article - June 27, 2007

New flight plans over S. Jersey subject of FAA meeting  
  South Jersey residents get their chance tonight to vent about the Federal Aviation Administration's controversial plan to help reduce flight delays at Philadelphia International Airport by directing more airplanes over residential areas. The FAA says it's prepared for hundreds of people to come to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, at Route 70 and Cuthbert Boulevard in Cherry Hill, to learn about the plan, see how it was modified this spring to make it more palatable, and comment on it. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 to 9 p.m.

   The airspace redesign faces an uncertain future because of a steady stream of criticism from political leaders and residents in the regions it covers - southeastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, New Jersey, and the New York metropolitan area. The modified New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia airspace redesign plan would create three new takeoff paths for flights leaving the Philadelphia airport, a change from six paths when the FAA first unveiled the plan in December.

   Now, about 70 percent of large- and medium-sized jets take off from the airport to the west, turn 10 degrees to the left as soon as they're airborne, and follow the Delaware River to an altitude of about 3,000 feet before turning again. Under the redesign, during times of peak flight activity, planes would be turned by air-traffic controllers as much as 45 degrees soon after takeoff, taking them over portions of Delaware and Gloucester Counties. The FAA has promised to limit the use of the new paths at night.

   FAA officials say the new plan will do little to reduce noise from arriving flights that many residents hear now in parts of Camden and Gloucester Counties. During the morning, late afternoon and evening, the arriving aircraft can rumble overhead every few minutes in the northern part of Camden County, as they come in from different directions, make a final turn to the west, and cross the Delaware to land on the airport's main east-west runway.

   FAA officials say the airspace plan will require enough preparation that it could easily be a year before they would use it. They expect to decide on a new plan by September. The plan has support publicly from airlines and one regional business group, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's CEO Council for Growth.

   U.S. Reps. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) have asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to scrutinize how much money the FAA has spent on the plan and its methodology. Sestak, in an interview yesterday, said he expects the GAO will reach the same conclusions as a group of experts he assembled: The FAA's plan did not adequately address the effect that low-flying aircraft would have on the health, education and quality of life of residents.

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer