Andrews: FAA rushing airspace redesign

Rep. Robert Andrews yesterday accused the Federal Aviation Administration of fast-tracking a controversial Northeast airspace redesign to circumvent a congressional review of the initiative.

The FAA denied the allegation, saying the agency planned to make some changes soon after adopting the plan in September.

Andrews (D-1st Dist.) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) urged officials in communities expected to face an increase in noise to seek court injunctions to block the redesign until at least after the Government Accountability Office issues a report on the plan next year.

"FAA decided to put a rush order to implement this plan . . . a stampede is perhaps a better word," said Andrews, accusing the agency of moving up the start date to Dec. 17 after originally telling officials it would not happen until well into 2008. "We know this plan is a risk to the public health and an environmental detriment to our constituents."

Andrews praised Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage for spearheading an effort in his city to seek an immediate injunction against the plan.

After more than a decade of study, FAA officials two months ago adopted the complex plan to alter flight routes into and out of Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International, La Guardia and Philadelphia International airports by essentially creating new sky lanes for planes. The goal is to reduce delays. Critics say it will increase noise while doing little or nothing to ease the region's horrific airline delays.

Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman, said the agency "has been clear" since it adopted the plan that some changes could begin soon. The Dec. 17 date, he said, is to start a proposal at Newark Liberty that would allow planes to "fan out" by taking different routes on southward departures to increase peak-hour takeoffs.

But Peters stressed that this would not occur unless "all procedures are in place and training completed" for air traffic controllers.

As for the review by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, Peters said the agency has been cooperative, noting, "we've been providing them information."

Andrews, however, said he and Sestak would provide "sworn statements" that they say prove the FAA is trying to undercut the GAO process by moving more quickly than they had intended.