Sparse crowd attends FAA session on airport rerouting

Posted: June 27, 2007

About 120 people, far fewer than expected, attended a public information session tonight in Cherry Hill to learn more about the Federal Aviation Administration's controversial plan to reroute airplanes taking off from Philadelphia International Airport over residential areas.

Anticipating a turnout like one at a similar session last month in Delaware County, FAA officials reserved a ballroom at the Crowne Plaza hotel with 1,000 chairs for members of the public to hear how the agency hopes to reroute air traffic in an effort to alleviate chronic delays at Philadelphia and New York-area airports. More than 1,000 attended the meeting May 1 in Tinicum Township, one of the communities where opposition to the plan is the strongest.

Many of those attending tonight wanted to ask what the FAA could do to reduce noise from planes landing at the airport. But the airspace redesign plan won't change arrival patterns over South Jersey significantly, with most flights continuing to be funneled toward the airport over northern Camden County and a portion of northwestern Gloucester County, FAA officials said.

The constant stream of planes over Gloucester City "is really affecting the quality of life," said Bob Beven, a former mayor who is now the town's director of community relations. "It's very frustrating. You can't open your windows."

Some of the South Jersey residents said the noise from inbound planes seems to have grown louder in the last six weeks. FAA officials said they may be reacting to the normal summertime increase in flight activity.

Jay Lassiter, a Cherry Hill resident, said he welcomed a study being conducted by the Government Accountability Office to determine the cost of developing the plan and the processes the FAA used.

"I hope the GAO will prove this is a bad deal for taxpayers, and if they do, I would ask my congressman to cut off funds for it," Lassiter said.

The airspace redesign calls for directing planes departing Philadelphia to the west to turn soon after takeoff on one of three headings that would take them over residential areas of Delaware or Gloucester Counties. The plan was modified in the spring, cutting the number of new takeoff headings from six to three after the original generated stiff opposition.

Most flights from the airport's main east-west runway now are supposed to make a 10-degree left turn just after takeoff and follow the Delaware River to an altitude of 3,000 feet. Noise from those flights mostly hits Tinicum Township.

FAA officials will make a decision by Sept. 1 on whether to adopt the plan, but say they expect implementation to take more than a year. The plan has been endorsed by airlines and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's CEO Council for Growth, which say the airport's poor on-time record can hamper economic development in the region.


Contact staff writer Tom Belden at 215-854-2454 or tbelden@phillynews.com.

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