A delay for new flight paths?; Two members of Congress say a plan for new takeoff procedures is unlikely to take effect this fall.

Two area members of Congress said yesterday that despite what the Federal Aviation Administration says, they believed it unlikely that air-traffic controllers would begin using new takeoff procedures from Philadelphia International Airport this fall.

U.S. Reps. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) and Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.) said the powerful chairman of the House Transportation Committee, James L. Oberstar, vowed in a speech on the House floor Thursday that the new flight paths would not be implemented until the Government Accountability Office completes a review of the plan in the spring.

The FAA formally adopted the airspace redesign plan Sept. 5 after almost a decade of study, and agency officials said then that they could start using the takeoff procedures by the end of October. The procedures create three new flight paths over residential areas of Delaware and Gloucester Counties that now hear little aircraft noise.

Delaware County officials last week sued the FAA in an effort to stop the changes.

Sestak said that the same FAA officials who said the flight paths could be used this fall also acknowledged that it would take until well into 2008 before they could be used.

The FAA is not legally bound to postpone implementation of the new flight paths, but it is likely to relent under pressure from lawmakers, Andrews said during a conference call with reporters that also included Sestak.

"Agencies that depend on Congress . . . are not going to cross the people who pay their bills," Andrews said.

The FAA said yesterday that it was still planning to begin using the new flight paths this fall.

Sestak and Andrews asked the GAO to review the procedures the FAA used to come up with the plan. They say that the effects of additional aircraft noise were not studied adequately and that the plan would do little to reduce delays, contrary to FAA assertions.

The airspace plan is designed to reduce flight delays at Philadelphia International and four New York-area airports by getting departing aircraft to higher altitudes faster.

Three of the airports in the New York area - Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark - led the nation in the first half of the year in late departures and arrivals. Philadelphia was close behind between January and June, and at times over the last three years has had an even worse record than the New York airports.

The airspace redesign plan has the support of airlines and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's CEO Council for Growth, which say the region's economy will suffer unless flight delays can be reduced.

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