Many people who live with noise from aircraft flying in and out of Philadelphia International Airport are questioning this week how they will be affected by a major overhaul of the region's airspace planned by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Almost 100 New Jersey residents - many of them already aggravated by the noise of arriving airplanes - were at Paulsboro High School Monday night seeking answers at the first of four public meetings on the FAA's New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia airspace redesign project.
"When they come over my house, they sound like they're shifting gears, downshifting," Collingswood resident John Bray said during a break in the meeting. "It's deafening, and it never seems to end. It's just bumper-to-bumper."
The second public meeting was scheduled for last night in Wilmington, with others set for tonight in South Philadelphia and tomorrow in Ridley Township.
The FAA, after more than eight years of study, plans to decide by late 2007 whether it will adopt a new system for routing airplanes departing from Philadelphia and four New York-area airports to reduce flight delays across one of the world's busiest pieces of airspace.
The FAA is considering four choices. One is to do nothing. A second is to route more aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean. A third would make limited changes to the current aircraft routings.
The fourth choice, which the FAA says would help cut delays the most, would send departing planes on one of six westbound headings that include over Tinicum Township and portions of Delaware County northwest of the airport, parts of Gloucester County to the southwest, and a swath of Southwest Philadelphia just north of the airport.
Today, to reduce noise, most flights by larger jets take off to the west over Tinicum and then turn slightly toward the south over the Delaware River immediately after leaving the ground. The planes usually do not make another turn until they are at higher altitudes and farther from the airport.
The plan for new departure headings has the support of airport managers and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's CEO Council for Growth. The council endorsed the effort three weeks ago, saying that the region's economic growth and its ability to attract new businesses depend on more efficient, on-time airport operations.
Even city Aviation Director Charles J. Isdell came to the Paulsboro meeting looking for answers from the FAA about how much more noise the aircraft flight paths would create for residents and businesses near the airport.
"We would prefer to see changes that have no increase in noise around the airport, or changes that would disperse" the noise over a wider area "if that's feasible," Isdell said in an interview.
Isdell said he also was concerned that Philadelphia International not become further congested by the FAA's redirecting traffic from the New York area. Philadelphia, the world's ninth-busiest airport by number of takeoffs and landings, handles more flights than any of the New York-area airports in the study: Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark and Teterboro, N.J.
The FAA's plans would have little effect on what most of those at Monday's meeting complained about: the continual noise of one plane after another landing at the airport. Most of the residents who asked questions of a bank of FAA officials said they lived in Cherry Hill, Collingswood, Haddonfield or Haddon Township in northern Camden County, or in Paulsboro or West Deptford Township in Gloucester County.
Isdell said airport officials now heard far more complaints about the noise of arriving flights than about departing ones.
But Steve Kelly, the FAA project manager, said the airspace redesign would affect only departures. "This is probably not going to change what you're experiencing," he told one unhappy Haddonfield resident.
The airspace project is separate from other plans to extend or rebuild the airport's runways to reduce delays for airline passengers. Philadelphia International perennially finishes at or near the bottom of the list for airline on-time performance, primarily because of congestion in the air and limited space on the ground for moving planes around.