Battle Over Fort Lauderdale Airport Runway Takes a Legal Turn

Broward County officials have renewed their efforts to convince the Federal Aviation Administration to stop using one of the runways at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to reduce flight delays.

The latest round of bickering about the disputed runway started Wednesday after the FAA used the runway for eight flights between 10:06 and 10:23 a.m.

The county says using the runway, which cuts across a diagonal northwest to southeast, violates an agreement aimed at protecting residents at either end of the airstrip from noise.

The county wants the diagonal runway used only when the main runway is rendered unusable by crosswinds, repairs or an emergency.

But the FAA says it needs to employ all options to keep planes operating on time. In March, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood's delays ranked as the worst among the nation's top 35 airports, said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

The FAA started using the diagonal runway to relieve congestion in June.

After the flurry of activity Wednesday, Broward Aviation Department director Tom Jargiello sent the FAA a letter asking it to ''cease and desist'' using the runway beyond the already-prescribed conditions.

The latest skirmish between the two agencies is a result of conflicting needs. The FAA wants smooth travel while the county wants to protect neighbors, many of whom are vocal about their noise complaints.

Since June, the county has been moving toward suing the FAA over use of that runway. Now Broward expects to file a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., by Aug. 15.

For several years, the county has had a rule that the diagonal runway is only to be used when ''crosswinds require the use of such runway, or operational necessity requires such use.''

The debate now is over the meaning of ''operational necessity'' while the airport struggles with flight delays.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, which has staked its niche among low-cost carriers, is the fastest-growing major airport in the country.

As traffic has soared over the past two years, delays have also skyrocketed.

''The flight delays affect travelers throughout the national air space system, particularly in the Northeast,'' the FAA's Bergen said.

In March, the FAA suggested the airport use the diagonal runway as needed to help alleviate delays.

On June 23, the FAA sent a letter to the airport outlining the agency's position on the use of the diagonal runway.

Since then the FAA has employed the runway more, but only sporadically, said Bergen, who did not know the exact number of times it has been used.

The FAA maintains it isn't violating any regulations by using the runway a few additional times.

''It is used as a last resort when all other efforts and all other strategies to minimize delays have been implemented,'' Bergen said.

Airport spokesman Steve Belleme said the county wants the FAA to hold off the extra use of the runway until a neighborhood impact study is completed.

Last week attorneys for the county and the FAA met to try to resolve the dispute, but that hasn't worked so far.

''It just seems to be the FAA is out to prove something, that they can use this runway,'' said county Commissioner John Rodstrom, whose district includes neighborhoods surrounding the airport.

Residents of Fort Lauderdale's Edgewood neighborhood accept that they will hear more noise if bad weather or runway repairs necessitate use of the diagonal runway, said Cliff Iacino, civic association president.

But using it to relieve congestion could mean even more noise with no warning, he said. ''We're kind of in a state of disbelief.''.