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The prospect that a new flight control system will concentrate more planes over their neighborhoods drew nearly 400 people from Minneapolis and its suburbs to an auditorium at Washburn High School on Tuesday night to question two congressmen and a top Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official about the effect on health and wealth.
“Please don’t allow the FAA to let airlines take off directly over our homes,” one woman said.
At least 15 major airports have installed the new air traffic control system, which relies on satellite technology to guide planes more precisely during takeoff and landings, said Dennis McGrann, executive director of National Organization to Insure a Sound-Controlled Environment, who spoke to the crowd. The system results in planes being routed in more narrow corridors.
U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison and Erik Paulsen, a Democrat and Republican, respectively, held the forum at the school in response to concerns that the system will be implemented in some fashion in coming months by the FAA at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).
After news surfaced last fall that the system was about to begin at MSP, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) bowed to the concerns of some residents and recommended that the FAA exempt the system from being used for runways that send planes over parts of south and southwest Minneapolis, Edina and Richfield. Under the MAC recommendation, the system could be used on other runways that send or receive flights in other directions over the metro area.
The FAA backed off plans to quickly begin the system and launched a study to determine whether it can safely use it on some runways but not others as the MAC recommended.
After Tuesday night’s session, FAA Great Lakes regional administrator Barry Cooper was asked when the agency might roll out some or all of the system at MSP. “We have no date,” he said. “We don’t want to presuppose the analysis being done.”
Paulsen said he favors the partial implementation chosen by the MAC. “It needs to be done thoughtfully,” he said.
Ellison said he’d consider backing a partial implementation.
Several in the crowd questioned the FAA’s reasons for bringing on the new system — saving fuel and improving safety. Cooper did not provide specific answers.
Lori Grotz of Edina asked Cooper how wide the new flight tracks might be and whether the planes would fly lower.
“The corridor is a line, basically,” Cooper said, adding that the system doesn’t call for lower flights.
“How will this financially impact the neighborhoods?” one man asked. Ellison replied that it was difficult to know.
“My home happens to be under one of the proposed new superhighways,” one woman added.
Others wanted to know about studies done on the potential health effects of repeated noise from airplanes. McGrann told them there is a major study underway in the United States whether and what any such effects might be.
There were few answers. But Ellison told the crowd that he and Paulsen were taking note of the concerns to gather information for shaping policies.
“This is by no means a venting session,” Ellison said.