New Fort Lauderdale Airport Runway: A Boon With A Lot Of Booms

Aug. 22--When the new south runway opens on Sept. 18, it will virtually eliminate air traffic delays, improve safety and provide enormous room for air traffic -- and tourism dollars -- to grow for decades into the future.

It will also bring unprecedented noise. About 1,700 homeowners near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport will hear a jarring thunder -- about the volume of a garbage disposal up close -- as potentially more than 150 jets per day land or take off over their homes.

For the first time, officials are saying that thousands more residents in Plantation and Davie also will be affected, although to a much lesser extent.

A new flying pattern, mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, requires planes taking off to the west from the north runway to make a 5-degree turn to the right as they climb -- subjecting more communities to some noise.

The change was originally noted in 2008 in the new runway's environmental impact statement but was not publicized until now. The airport says that's because the FAA only recently explained how the pattern would be implemented.

"It's not anything that we even have control over," said Greg Meyer, airport spokesman.

To make it more palatable, the airport is asking pilots to avoid using the south runway from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., after it opens.

The airport also will initiate a community outreach program, which will include establishing a noise hotline staffed by airport employees, making community presentations and publicizing that the runway means more noise.

Proposed in 1988 to meet future growth demands, the airport expansion went through nearly three decades of false starts, lawsuits, environmental challenges and neighborhood opposition. Despite the obstacles, the runway will provide enormous room for passenger growth and pump millions of dollars into the local economy for decades to come.

"It's huge," said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It will be a gold mine for the community."

By 2032, the airport expects to handle up to 369,000 landings and takeoffs and 32 million passengers per year without any significant delays. It currently handles about 260,000 landings and takeoffs and 23.5 million passengers per year.

The moment it opens will have capacity to accommodate up to 450,000 takeoffs and landings per year.

"At one point, we were one of the top six delay-prone airports in the country," said Kent George, director of the Broward County Aviation Department. "As of Sept. 18, we're not even going to be on the list."

Currently, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport ranks 21st in the nation in terms of overall passenger traffic. The FAA projects more than 25 million passengers will fly in and out of the airport within the next five years -- which might move it up a spot.

But don't expect it to match Miami International, which is second in the nation only to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in terms of international travelers.

"We'll never be a busy as Miami," George said.

To celebrate the runway's opening, more than 600 dignitaries will gather near the 17-inch-thick concrete strip on that Thursday. Then an JetBlue Airbus A320 filled with corporate executives, local officials and media is expected to make the first landing.

"The runway was desperately needed by the early 2000s," George said. "And when we back up, everything from Mississippi east starts backing up."

Most immediately, the new runway will cut flight delays from the current 6 to 15 minutes to near zero, a significant accomplishment considering South Florida lies along one of the busiest flight corridors in the nation, George said.

Every minute of delay costs an airline $42 on average, and currently 25 carriers conduct 600 flights per day in and out of Fort Lauderdale, George noted.

"That's over half a million dollars right there -- a day -- that it's costing the airlines in delays, let alone the time it costs the passenger with connections and sitting on the ground," he said.

By eliminating delays, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood also will become more appealing to new airlines. That likely will be international carriers since every domestic airline except Hawaiian already flies into the airport, officials said.

In addition to the new runway, the airport is in the process of revamping its four terminals to enhance its image as a primary South Florida portal -- at an overall cost of $2.33 billion. The project is being paid for through federal and state grants and airport user fees.

"Broward County and the whole area around here is in a growth mode," George said. "If you don't have a good airport, that growth's not going to come."

kkaye@tribpub.com or 561-243-6530

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