May 21--Airplanes will be flying high over the midsection of Longboat Key as part of a new flight path slated to go into effect June 8 at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
The path is designed to lessen jet noise for the greatest number of people affected by airport traffic, officials said.
Under the new configuration, departing flights from Runway 32 will turn left and fly due west at a compass heading of 270 degrees across the midsection of Longboat Key, before turning north or south, airport officials said.
Under the current flight path, northbound planes departing on Runway 32 begin on a 270-degree heading but turn to a heading of 295 degrees, which is supposed to take them between the tip of Longboat Key and the mainland. Southbound planes currently fly a compass heading of 270 degrees before crossing Longboat Key and turning south.
The new route probably will not trigger noise complaints from those on Longboat Key because modern aircrafts are quieter than older models, and the planes will be flying at an altitude between 3,000 and 5,000 feet by the time they cross the key, said Fred J. Piccolo, president and chief executive officer at the airport. And the mainland neighborhoods northwest of the airport should be quieter, he said.
The path, first broached years ago, was proposed to mitigate noise in Whitfield Estates and other residential areas near the airport. It generated a controversy that led to years of complaints and litigation. Longboat Key fought the plan and unsuccessfully sued Manatee County, which required the airport to seek the new flight path as a condition of approval for a 2,500-foot extension of the airport's main runway. The FAA later conditionally approved the 270-degree turn, but opponents appealed it.
A federal appeals court in 2002 upheld the FAA's stance that the flight path would have no significant environmental impact on Longboat Key residents. The new flight path could not be implemented until after the airport extended the runway, installed noise barriers at the runway's northern end, and purchased or sound-proofed neighboring homes.
"It should have a lesser impact than the current flight path, and one that has been vetted for quite some time," Piccolo said.
He said 1,100 fewer residents will be affected by the noise because the planes stay over water longer.
"The middle of Longboat Key should hear nothing of consequence," Piccolo said.
A Longboat Key activist, who has been involved in the dispute over airport noise for 15 years, supported the plan.
Gene Jaleski, 65, who is retired, contends the new flight path represents "the least amount of noise for the fewest number of people during the shortest period of time."
"It's going to decrease noise," he said.
However, other Longboat Key residents aren't so sure.
Jordan Vella, 28, listened recently to the buzz of a plane flying above from the courtyard at the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub, where she is assistant manager. She is worried about the plan.
"I think that would disturb all of our customers on the deck," she said, pointing to lunchtime diners enjoying a sunny, outdoor deck overlooking an idyllic expanse of blue-green water.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which supervises the nation's airports, long ago approved plans to change the flight path but delayed putting it into effect until now.
The airport requested the change, and in order to accommodate the plan, lengthened Runway 32, said Kathleen Bergen, Atlanta FAA public affairs manager and spokesperson.
"June 8 is our current (effective) date," she said. "It will not change."