News Article - July 23, 2007

Hearing today on airport authority  
  The Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee will hear testimony today on a measure to fix the air-traffic gridlock at Philadelphia International Airport by diverting planes to nearby airports. The legislation proposes that a single regional entity operate both the Philadelphia airport and the Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown while coordinating activity among other local airports, rail, and mass-transit authorities. The idea is to take pressure off the congested Philadelphia airport and spread it out among underused regional facilities.

   Philadelphia International is overcrowded, and is expected to get worse. It finished 27th out of 31 large airports in on-time performance in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Total flights are expected to increase more than 60 percent in the next four years, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The legislation in Harrisburg also is a response to a controversial FAA plan to reduce flight delays in Philadelphia by directing planes over more residential neighborhoods.

   Currently, most departing flights follow the Delaware River until they reach 3,000 feet. The FAA is considering creating three more takeoff paths, allowing planes to fan out and get into the air more quickly. The FAA's airspace redesign faces opposition from local political leaders and Delaware County residents, who booed and yelled at agency officials at a public meeting in May.

   The FAA's plan is a short-term fix, said state Rep. Bryan Lentz (D., Delaware), the legislation's sponsor. Lentz hopes a Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Airport Authority could be created to coordinate travel activities at the Atlantic City, Lehigh Valley, Wilmington and Philadelphia airports. His bill also calls for the area's airports to work with Amtrak and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority to accommodate travelers going shorter distances.

   But the bill would require the City of Philadelphia to relinquish control of its airport, which means giving up city jobs. The airport's revenue last year was $270 million. Additionally, travelers would have to be willing to use the smaller airports. Delta Airlines said last week that it would discontinue flights between Atlanta and Wilmington's New Castle Airport because of low ticket sales.

   And organizing four airports, SEPTA and Amtrak to coordinate planning would require a behemoth effort. Nonetheless, "it has to be done," Lentz said. All the FAA plan does "is deal with the difference between a 30-second and a 5-minute delay. It doesn't solve the 10-year problem." The redesign plan would save 12 million minutes of delays annually in the Philadelphia, Newark and New York regions, the FAA says.

   Attempts to give the suburbs some say over Philadelphia International have been unsuccessful in the past. Two-thirds of the airport, including Terminal A, sit in Delaware County. However, Philadelphia's Division of Aviation operates the airport. In the early 1990s, Gov. Rendell, who was then Philadelphia's mayor, and Mayor Street, then City Council president, supported a regional airport authority, but only if the city retained substantial control. In 2004, the Street administration opposed an effort by Republican state legislators to take away its control of the airport.
If You Go
Public hearing on state legislation affecting regional air traffic.
Day: July 23, 2007
Time: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Ridley High School, 901 Morton Ave., Folsom, Delaware County.
Legislation: House Bill 1182

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer