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Plan for Air Paths Draws Ground Opposition

Plan for Air Paths Draws Ground Opposition
Air travelers hoping that a proposed reconfiguration of air traffic in the New York and Philadelphia area will soon reduce chronic flight delays could be in for yet another long wait: some municipalities in New Jersey and New York are suing to stop the plan because it would route noisy jets over areas unaccustomed to such traffic.

The towns and counties are also rallying political power in Washington to oppose the plan.

“Whatever it takes, we’re going to attack this,” Christopher P. St. Lawrence, the town supervisor in Ramapo, N.Y., said of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to reroute many flights in the New York area.

The plan would simplify the paths flown by aircraft landing at airports in the New York and Philadelphia areas and provide more varied routes for takeoffs.

The agency expects to begin rolling out the plan this fall and projects that it will reduce delays by 20 percent when it is fully in effect in 2011, compared with the level of delays expected if routes were not changed.

More direct flight paths and steeper takeoffs, which get jetliners into thinner air more rapidly, would also curb fuel use and save airlines $248 million a year, the F.A.A. said.

But the plan would steer hundreds of flights daily over areas that are not part of regular flight paths now, disturbing homes and schools and threatening property values, Mr. St. Lawrence said.

His town, in Rockland County, northwest of New York City, is joining the county in seeking to block the plan in federal court. Ramapo could face as many as 600 flights a day passing over at altitudes of about 6,000 feet, he said. He and other officials have tried for years — the airspace redesign was nearly a decade in the making — to stop the F.A.A. from sending planes over their towns.

“It’s not just that we in Rockland County don’t want airplanes,” said C. Scott Vanderhoef, the county executive. Mr. Vanderhoef said the F.A.A. had failed to abide by federal requirements to mitigate noise when redesigning air space. “The agency arrogantly approached this redesign,” he said.

The opposition shows how difficult it is to alter the country’s antiquated air travel system. In recent years, because of financial, environmental and noise concerns, few new airports have been built and air travel has outgrown the air traffic control system, leading to increasing delays in many areas.

The three big New York-area airports and the Philadelphia airport are regularly at the bottom of on-time rankings. Just 57.2 percent of flights arrived on time in July at Kennedy International Airport, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported; at La Guardia Airport, 60 percent were on time; at Newark, 61.4 percent; and at Philadelphia International Airport, 63.4 percent. Airport delays in the East often ripple across the country.

Officials in Elizabeth, N.J., said the city had filed suit in federal court to block the F.A.A. plan. Elizabeth residents in the current flight path are accustomed to the noise, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said, but the plan would spread the misery across the city.

“That’s the issue — 40 percent to 60 percent have not experienced airplane noise,” Mr. Bollwage said. “Homes are going to shake. Backyard barbecues are going to be ruined.”

The F.A.A. says that fewer people will be subjected to noise, in part because planes taking off more steeply will mean fewer low-flying aircraft near homes. But it is clear that by varying takeoff routes, people unaccustomed to such noise will be affected. Home values, among other considerations, could be affected as flight paths shift.

“There are people who will have a different noise experience,” said Steve Kelley, manager of airspace redesign at the F.A.A. Of opponents, Mr. Kelley said, “many of them are the same ones who say, ‘Do something about the delays.’ ” He said the agency considered towns’ objections, altering the plan in parts, and chose the best alternative.

David Neeleman, chairman of JetBlue Airways, which operates from Kennedy Airport, said neighbors near his Connecticut home are upset about the F.A.A. plan, which they believe would redirect flights over upscale suburbs not used to such noise.

Improving the air traffic system will require compromise and sacrifice, Mr. Neeleman said. “Any improvements from here on out, we’re going to have to change how we do business.”

The F.A.A. plan is not intended to make room for more air traffic, but to handle it more efficiently.


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