FAA airspace meeting leaves residents angry and frustrated|
RIDLEY PARK - Angry residents fought against protocol at an official meeting of the House Subcommittee of Aviation, chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-Fl.), on the proposed FAA airspace redesign plan. Mica repeatedly called for order while around 150 residents from across Delaware County cheered, clapped, heckled and demanded answers at a public hearing in Ridley Park Oct. 18. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), County Council Chairman Andy Reilly, Rep. Tom Gannon (R-161), and representatives from FAA and the Philadelphia International Airport discussed the proposed plan, which would affect five airports in Northeastern States. Local representatives and residents strongly oppose a piece of the plan, which would allow low-flying planes to bank directly over Delaware County rather than gain altitude over the Delaware River before turning, as they must do now. The meeting was off to a tense start when Rep. Mica began by congratulating Charles Isdell, the director of Aviation at the Philadelphia Airport, on the speed with which the airport had begun construction on the controversial Runway 17-35 Project. In recent weeks, the County Council has responded to public pressure by promising to reinvestigate whether the project can still be stopped through legal action. Isdell tried to emphasize that the airport wanted to be a good neighbor, and had sent concerns to the FAA about the noise impact of the airspace redesign plan, a separate project from the runway. Steve Kelly, the project manager for the FAA, also tried to reassure residents that the final plan is still to come later in the year, and noise mitigation would be a priority. He mentioned that they might propose not to turn all planes over the county, turn them only during peak hours, or use technology to direct them over the turnpike instead of homes. "If we could find a place to put all those airplanes where people didn't live, believe me, we would do it," said Kelly. "We're doing this because of all the delays at the airport and the efficiency of our airspace." Reilly attacked the FAA's argument that the redesign would shorten delays. Eighty-four percent of delays would not be impacted at all by the plan, and at best the airport would shave off minutes, he said. "I don't think that the way the FAA has handled this has been fair to the residents of Delaware County," Reilly told the Subcommittee chairman. He promised to work with the FAA and airport, but made it clear that the county was preparing for a legal battle as well. "Minor mitigation simply won't do it for us," he said, to cheers from the audience. Weldon pointed out that the Northeastern Philadelphia Airport had a noise ordinance from the city banning all commercial flights, and promised talk with the city about reducing delays through easing the ordinance. Although Mica ended the hearing by promising to look at any written comments and testimony submitted before Nov. 13, many residents were angry over the tone of the meeting, and felt that their concerns were likely to go unheeded. One resident of Ridley Park, who only gave her initials as K.J., burst into tears as the representatives left the hall. "They're lying to us, they wouldn't hear what we had to say," said the 34-year-old resident. "They don't care about the quality of our life." Brookhaven resident Gene Juliano summed up his experience from the meeting. "My house doesn't shake now," said Juliano. "But it will."