Both lawmakers decried a remark by Jim Peters, the FAA's regional spokesman, that was recently published in the Delaware County Daily Times: "If any controller at the Philadelphia Airport believes that these procedures are unsafe, they should look for work elsewhere."
Peters said yesterday that the agency stood by its decision in December to implement part of the redesign - an air-traffic plan that affects communities in Delaware and Gloucester Counties.
"The dispersal headings that we are using at Philadelphia International Airport are safe," said Peters, referring to the new departure system.
He declined further comment.
Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman in Washington, said the agency welcomed "legitimate safety concerns, but the information has to be factual."
She said the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers had disseminated inaccurate information, but she declined to elaborate.
"We think the procedures are safe," she said, citing a rigorous safety-risk management process.
Pat Forrey, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers, said the FAA's efforts to fast-track the new airspace initiatives at a time when controllers "are already understaffed, fatigued and being pushed to their limits" also threatened public safety.
Forrey said the FAA refused to give the controllers input into the process and now was using intimidation to stifle their safety concerns.
"Let me be clear: We will not be silenced," Forrey said.
Andrews said he found the FAA's reaction to the controllers' safety questions alarming.
"No one knows the air traffic system better than the people who run it," said Andrews. "If you blow the whistle because you've seen something wrong . . . you should be rewarded, not punished."
Don Chapman, spokesman for the Philadelphia chapter of the air-traffic controllers union, said the rush to put more planes into the sky did not save time since "the system can't accept them," resulting in more circling time. Tensions between the FAA and the community have been severely strained since December when residents in the affected communities began to experience the roar of engines overhead.
Ridley Park Mayor Henry A. Eberle Jr. said he received a call from the principal at Lakeview Elementary School on Feb. 1 because the noise was so intense that it left students in tears.
"It sounded like a subway rushing through the hallway," Eberle said of the five or six planes that took off in succession.
Natalie Coleman, a Ridley Park mother who works out of her home, said putting in earplugs would enable her to get a good night's sleep; however, it would also prevent her from hearing a crying child.
"That's not a choice you should have to make," she said.
Addressing a crowd of about 75, both Sestak and Andrews said the issue extended well beyond noise pollution.
Sestak said he was appalled that a federal agency could be "so dismissive" of the public it was supposed to serve.
"They have been arrogant, contemptuous in their comments, sarcastic at best," said Sestak. "They are really a rogue agency."
Andrews said the behavior has been so troubling that the Senate was holding up the appointment of acting administrator Robert Sturgell, President Bush's choice to head the FAA.
Sestak said the General Accounting Office was conducting an investigation into the agency's actions and litigation was pending in multiple states.
In the meantime, one Ridley Township homeowner got so exasperated that he painted a profane message to the FAA on his rooftop.
"On some level, the frustration is understandable," Sestak said.
Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-701-7625 or email@example.com.