Neighbors Get an Earful From Akron-Canton Airport

Some evenings, Kathleen Chiofolo sits on her porch and watches the jets soar overhead, taking off from Akron-Canton Airport.

One day, she counted six commercial flights in 25 minutes. Each time a plane goes over, the engine roar causes all family conversations outdoors to come to a halt.

''It's terrible,'' said Chiofolo, who lives on Byron Drive, several blocks from the airport. ''The noise, the sounds -- it's awful.''

Around the neighborhood, other residents are starting to complain about the increasing noise.

Akron-Canton is thefastest-growing airport in the Midwest, and perhaps the country. With the addition of Frontier Airlines last month, Akron-Canton now has six airlines and more than 80 flights a day. And the number of flights will increase again next month when AirTran Airways begins nonstop flights to Las Vegas five days a week.

All the growth has been a convenience for travelers seeking to avoid larger airports. Akron-Canton's passenger count more than tripled from 403,694 in 1995 to a record of more than 1.35 million last year. The airport is on track to surpass 1.5 million this year. Local officials and business leaders say the airport growth also is good for the local economy.

But the expansion is starting to come at a cost to the airport's neighbors. So far, their grumbling has stayed in the neighborhood, and has not escalated to formal complaints.

''If I'm out on the patio and a plane goes over, I have to put my fingers in my ears,'' said Juanita Casto, a neighbor of Chiofolo's. ''Usually they pick a time when I have company over.''

As loud as the air traffic is, some residents say it was even louder 20 years ago. That's because technology innovations have made jet engines quieter over the years, airport Director Fred Krum said.

But the airport has added 10 daily commercial flights in the past two years. So although the planes may be quieter, the extra takeoffs and landings mean less peace and quiet in the neighborhood.

It's a common problem for airport neighborhoods around the country. Every large airport, and most mid-size ones, commonly receive noise complaints, said Anne Kohut, editor of Airport Noise Report, a weekly newsletter based in Ashburn, Va. The complaints usually intensify after flights are added or new runways built, she said.

''When communities suddenly get new planes or larger planes, that is difficult for communities and the airport to deal with,'' Kohut said. ''People aren't used to it. That frequently upsets communities.''

In Greensboro, N.C., a dispute arose when the mid-sized Piedmont Triad International Airport added a FedEx hub five years ago, used mainly at night. The extra overnight air traffic upset many neighbors, and they remain unhappy, according to the newsletter.

In some cases, the federal government steps in with a noise-abatement program such as installing special sound insulation in neighbors' houses. It sometimes buys houses so owners can relocate.

However, to be eligible, the noise at those properties has to be above a Federal Aviation Administration level computed using a complex formula. Houses near the Akron-Canton Airport don't qualify for the assistance because noise levels aren't as high as those near bigger, metropolitan airports.

Some neighbors of Akron-Canton say they have no problem with the airport.

Patti Crotti lives on Smith Avenue and runs a child-care business from her home. The children she watches love the planes and say they remind them of family vacations taken to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Disney World.

Crotti, too, has noticed more planes flying overhead lately, but she said she has nearly tuned them out.

Carolyn and Glenn Witsaman, Greensburg Road residents, don't mind takeoff sounds, either. But they don't like the wake-up calls from across the street when jet engines are tested at full power between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. The revving, called an engine run-up, is required for maintenance.

''In the house, everything on the walls goes crooked,'' Carolyn said. ''Oh, well, I guess it's something you have to live with and can do nothing about.''

Some airports have dealt with engine run-ups by creating a ''hush house,'' an acoustically insulated structure with three sides. Airports in Chicago, San Antonio, Indianapolis and Oakland, Calif., have hush houses. They cost about $4 million, according to the Oakland International Airport. Federal grants usually cover the cost, said Kohut, the newsletter editor.

Once again, to be eligible for the federal money, the surrounding community must exceed certain noise levels; that's not the case around Akron-Canton.

Some who live near the airport worry that another aggressive expansion will someday lead the airport to take their land through eminent domain. But Krum said they have nothing to worry about.

''The no-brainer is theeminent-domain thing,'' he said. ''That hasn't even been thought about. We have absolutely no plans to take any of those homes whatsoever. We certainly don't need it for physical expansion.''

Some also say they fear that military cargo planes will become a fixture at Akron-Canton.

Krum said such planes are there only on rare occasions. ''We really don't have a military base or anything,'' he said. ''That would be a total surprise to us.''

Krum said residents should ask him their questions rather than rely on rumors. ''We would welcome them at any time,'' he said. ''This is a public corporation, so we're not doing anything top-secret.''

That reassurance would be welcome among residents such as Casto who don't want to leave their home.

''I love it here,'' said Casto, a Byron Drive resident for 41 years. ''This is one of the prettiest places in Ohio. I would get sick if I had to move out of this house.''

Even among those who despise the noise, there is an appreciation of what Akron-Canton Airport is doing.

''It's a nice little convenient airport,'' Chiofolo said. ''But I don't want to see it getting any bigger. I do fear that it's going to adversely affect this little neighborhood here.''

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