Federal aviation officials are looking to reduce a growing number of delayed flights at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, possibly by making more use of two secondary runways.
But airport-area residents and Broward County officials worry that the plan will mean more noise in surrounding neighborhoods.
The county-owned airport now relies mainly on its north runway, the only one long enough to handle large jet airliners on a regular basis. The airport also has two smaller runways: a south runway parallel to the main airstrip and a ''crosswind'' runway that cuts diagonally through the other two.
As airport traffic has surged, so have delays. More than 3,000 flights were delayed in February, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Only half that many were delayed in the same month three years ago.
To reduce delays, the Federal Aviation Administration is talking about opening the south runway to small private jets from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The south runway is now limited to propeller planes.
The FAA also is looking at experimenting with regular use of the crosswind runway, which is now open only when wind conditions or other factors close one of the other runways.
This option in particular is arousing concern among neighbors and county officials. It would mean a steady stream of planes flying over neighborhoods north and south of the airport -- neighborhoods that now seldom see low-flying planes.
FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said these measures are merely under discussion; no decisions have been made.
Activist Randy Dunlap predicted that if the crosswind runway is opened up, noise would increase in several southern Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods, including his own, Lauderdale Isles.
''The impact on us is going to be tremendous. Our neighborhoods are very close to that runway,'' Dunlap said.
The runway options are discussed in a memo that Broward Aviation Director Tom Jargiello sent to County Administrator Roger Desjarlais dated April 5. According to the memo, the FAA's air traffic control division suggested the changes.
The ''emergency use only'' restrictions have been lifted on the crosswind runway to handle added traffic in the past, Bergen said.
Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs said the airport director is working with the FAA to see what kind of middle ground can be found to accommodate the increased traffic without harming nearby neighborhoods.
''This is a new memo and new marching orders, and we are trying to figure out what we can do,'' Jacobs said.
NO STUDY NEEDED
Because the shifts would not be considered a ''significant federal action,'' no study would be necessary before making the changes, the memo stated.
But airport spokesman Jim Reynolds said local officials still want the FAA to look at possible noise increases before a final decision is made.
Delays at the airport are a problem, he said, but officials would like to see more data before deciding whether it is bad enough to warrant the crosswind's use.
When the crosswind runway has been used to the past, calls to the airport's noise office increase significantly, Reynolds said.
The county attorney's office also is examining the situation, he said.
Reynolds compared the airport's congestion problems with those on Interstate 95 at rush hour.
''The runway, you can only put so many airplanes on it. Delays can become so excessive you can't add anymore airplanes,'' he said.
The county has been studying whether to extend the south runway to make it long enough to handle the larger jets now limited to the north runway.
But that proposal sparked major opposition from both residents and town officials along the south runway's flight path.
The proposal is awaiting the results of an impact study, due out in summer 2006.
The FAA wants smooth travel while the county wants to protect residents with noise complaints; Broward to file petition with U.S. Court of Appeals.
In recent months, people who live in northeastern Hollywood neighborhoods have had to deal with an increase in air traffic from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
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