Agency adopts more responsive tone on airplane noise

PHOENIX — Nearly 100 people strolled through the high school cafeteria throughout the evening, studying colored graphs of flight takeoffs and jotting down comments for officials.

More than three years after they awoke to find window-rattling flights rerouted in an airborne highway above their homes, residents of Phoenix’s downtown historic districts said they finally felt the Federal Aviation Administration was listening.

A court victory by Phoenix and neighbourhood groups over the FAA last year has prompted the agency to be more responsive to residents as it continues to beat back noise complaints around the United States over the air traffic modernization plan known as “NextGen.”

While challenges by residents of Washington’s Georgetown neighbourhood and other jurisdictions are still being heard in court, people in other affected areas such as Santa Cruz, California, have not sued the agency because they believe their complaints are being considered. Phoenix residents said they appreciated the FAA’s current approach.

“They are being transparent now,” Opal Wagner, a resident of the vintage Willo district and vice-president of the Phoenix Historic Neighbourhoods Coalition, said at the first of three FAA public workshops held last week. She and others expressed disappointment that a fourth one wasn’t scheduled downtown where most noise complaints originated.

“I think that it’s good that they are now dialoguing with the public,” Wagner said. “Maybe if they had done this in the beginning, there wouldn’t have been a lawsuit.”

The historic districts and the city sued the agency after the FAA changed Phoenix Sky Harbor’s flight routes in September 2014, bringing airport noise to public parks and the quiet neighbourhoods of charming bungalows, ranch houses and Spanish revival homes, some dating to the 1920s and earlier. About 2,500 households were affected. The noise got so bad for some, they sold their homes and moved.

The FAA started revising flight paths and procedures around the United States in 2014 under the NextGen plan, which uses more precise, satellite-based navigation to save time, increase how many planes airports can handle, and reduce fuel burn and emissions. Noise complaints poured in from Orange County, California, to Washington, D.C., as flights took off at lower altitudes, in narrower paths and on more frequent schedules.

The rollout of the procedures in Phoenix initially represented NextGen’s “most problematic implementation,” said Chris Oswald, vice-president of safety and regulatory affairs with Airports Council International-North America, a trade association that represents commercial airports in the U.S. and Canada. He said he …read more

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