FAA Restates Case to Divert Some Nevada Flights

Citing the need to better accommodate increasing air traffic at the nation's sixth-busiest passenger airport, the FAA restated its case to allow some eastbound planes to resume flights directly over neighborhoods.

"There are tens of thousands of people who bought homes on the western rim of the valley with zero expectation of aircraft noise," Toussaint said.

Meadows contends planes must be at least 5,000 feet by the time they reach Durango Drive and the Las Vegas Beltway, then climb to 7,000 feet or more before flying over Rancho Drive and Washington Avenue. Those minimums are 1,000 feet higher than when planes followed similar paths until 2001.

But Toussaint, who serves on a McCarran-sponsored noise committee, does not believe the added height requirements will make any difference.

"Once a pilot takes off, he can go wherever he wants provided it's safe," Toussaint said. "Diagrams with nice little arrows aren't credible because pilots make the decisions."

Some residents are worried about more than noise. Paul Zeppa owns luxury homes near Rainbow Boulevard and the Las Vegas Beltway - an area he calls "airplane alley" - as well as at The Lakes, which sits directly beneath the FAA's proposed flight path.

He worries older aircraft may not have the engine strength to meet the FAA's suggested altitude requirements when taking off to the west and northwest. More importantly, Zeppa said a plane crash over Summerlin or The Lakes would "kill thousands" because those areas are densely populated.

"It's a safety issue," Zeppa said of keeping planes on their current path.

Public hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 12 at Sierra Vista High School, 8100 Robindale Road; and 6 p.m. Dec. 13 at Centennial High School, 10200 Centennial Parkway.

Some have questioned why those schools were selected over sites closer to the affected areas. Meadows said efforts to reserve space at Palo Verde and Cimarron-Memorial high schools failed because of scheduling conflicts. He added Sierra Vista is in an area that would see less air traffic under the proposed changes, while Centennial is close to neighborhoods where overhead flights would increase.

If approved, the new routes would be used beginning June 8, Meadows said.

Nevada's congressional delegation is monitoring the issue.

"Homeowners, renters and others impacted by this proposed change must have a say in something that could fundamentally alter a neighborhood's quality of life," Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who serves on the House Aviation Subcommittee, said via e-mail.

Berkley added she supports expanding McCarran as demand increases, "But any discussion of increased capacity must include not only noise and environmental concerns, but also issues such as overcrowding on runways and the ability of our air traffic controllers to safely handle larger numbers of flights."

T.J. Crawford, a spokesman for Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., said Porter "is extremely concerned" about the FAA's proposed changes and how they would affect local neighborhoods. Porter, who serves with Berkley on the subcommittee, also hopes potential problems can be resolved with public input, Crawford added.

As traveler interest in Las Vegas grows worldwide, the city is also approaching a potential bottleneck in air service.

McCarran's maximum capacity is approximately 55 million arriving and departing passengers per year, Walker has said repeatedly. But realistically, Walker said that total is closer to 53 million because of maintenance, air space congestion and other logistic issues that prevent an airport from operating at 100 percent efficiency year-round.

In March, county commissioners approved a $2.4 billion plan to complete McCarran's infrastructure by 2011, approximately three years earlier than previously anticipated.

Even with new terminals, parking lots and ticketing counters, it cannot grow its passenger capacity further without adding more runways.

Southern Nevada's next option for adding air service is a proposed $4 billion airport in Ivanpah Valley, about 45 miles southwest of downtown Las Vegas.

Tentatively scheduled to open in 2017, it would complement McCarran by allowing 30 million to 35 million more travelers to fly here each year.

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