Commissioners Seek Runway Alternatives at Fort Lauderdale Airport

The growing number of flights -- and delays -- at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is forcing airport managers, county commissioners and federal aviation officials to look harder for solutions that can protect residents from noise and accommodate more traffic.

County officials sent a clear message to the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday that they did not consider increased use of the airport's diagonal runway a viable option.

But county commissioners didn't rule out shifting more traffic to the south runway, an overflow option that airport officials say is one of several they are considering to help ease growing delays.

''The question is, how many alternatives can we identify?'' said Tom Jargiello, the airport's director. ''We're trying to come up with as many as we can.''

As the airport has grown, delays have become increasingly common, especially for private planes seeking to land.

Generally, planes take off and land on the main north runway.


Long-term plans call for building a second, parallel runway, an option that has gotten bogged down in political and environmental battles and red tape.

As a shorter-term fix, the Federal Aviation Administration is considering two alternatives:

Allowing more planes, like small jets, to take off and land on the shorter south runway, which has been restricted to propeller aircraft. More steady use of the south runway would require the airport to reconsider how planes arrive to the west, which would create a wider swath of airplane noise for people who live under those approach paths.

Conducting a 180-day test of the diagonal runway, which is typically used only in emergencies or under certain weather conditions.

When that runway is used, residents who normally don't hear as much airplane noise notice.


The diagonal runway last saw heavy use when the county made repairs to the main runway last year; residents were warned about the shift in air traffic, but the airport still logged dozens of complaints.

Any use of the diagonal runway hits the Chula Vista Isles neighborhood especially hard, said Craig Bonney, treasurer of the Fort Lauderdale community's homeowners' association.

''It's a highway, over my house,'' Bonney told county commissioners. ''The only difference is there's no concrete, but there's a lot more noise.''

Either solution is a temporary fix, as commissioners readily acknowledged when they also agreed Tuesday to try to speed up the environmental studies that would lead to building a second, longer runway.

''There's a lot of things going on at Fort Lauderdale,'' said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen. ''It's more than just a simple air traffic situation.''

But county commissioners made it clear Tuesday that they want to be a part of any decision the FAA makes. They also indicated that they fear federal planners will impose something unacceptable to the neighborhoods near the airport.


Jargiello has two weeks to bring suggestions to the commission for easing the congestion.

''We want to take the initiative,'' said Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom.

''We don't want to have our fate and our outcome decided by the FAA.''