FAA readying airport plan that prompted cities’ protests

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 7, 2013 - 10:17 PM

New technology aims to concentrate takeoffs and save fuel, but some areas fear the noise.

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Months after protests about routing takeoffs over south Minneapolis and Edina, an air of inevitability surrounds the technology’s arrival.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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A new technology that would concentrate airplane takeoffs over some metro neighborhoods appears likely to be adopted, despite aggressive protests by some officials and residents in the affected cities.

Dan Boivin, chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), acknowledged that the new satellite system is likely for all departures at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

“When and in what form still will be seen, but I think it’s coming,” Boivin said. “Ultimately, it’s the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] saying this is the way it’s going to be.”

The FAA has given a high national priority to the technology — which relies on satellite guidance to concentrate air traffic. The agency sees it as a way to save fuel and hopes to use it at all major airports.

“We all know ... the FAA has the authority to do this,” Minneapolis Council Member John Quincy added.

In response to protests from Edina and south Minneapolis, the Airports Commission in November recommended that the FAA withhold the technology from two runways at that route planes north and northwest over those communities and Richfield.

Instead, the MAC recommended using the technology on runways that send planes south and east, where residents supported the change because it would concentrate more flights over an expressway and a river valley.

The FAA this month said it is considering whether the technology can be used safely for some runways but not others at the airport. But it hasn’t ruled out eventually using the system for all departures at MSP.

Outreach or PR?

The executive director of the Airports Commission recently wrote the FAA to urge “holistic outreach” to the communities in the flight paths if the agency still pursues its plans to use the technology.

Reaching out to local leaders “will be critical for maintaining support,” Jeffrey Hamiel wrote.

In Edina, City Council Member Joni Bennett said the letter “does seem to contemplate implementation” of the technology.

Hamiel’s letter to the FAA recommended that it study data gathered from using the technology on some runways before proceeding with plans to roll it out on all of them.

The letter urged “outreach to key community representatives in each of the cities” around the airport.

“This will be critical for maintaining support throughout the process for the implementation ... on runways 30L and 30R,” which send departures over south Minneapolis, Edina and Richfield.

The letter also called on the FAA to “dedicate the resources necessary to complete the elements of the plan successfully,” including staff and “consultant services with a dedicated project budget.”

Hamiel was unavailable for comment.

Edina City Manager Scott Neal, who read Hamiel’s letter, said, “He’s pretty clear that this is going to come to us and FAA should adequately prepare communities ... to cope with it.”

Homeowner Bob Kane saw the letter as “a plea ... to have the FAA fund a focused PR campaign” to move forward with its plan after “smoothing over of public hard feelings.”

Mixed results in Georgia

The technology has been in place at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the nation’s busiest and home base of Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Many of those planes fly over College Park, where Ambrose Clay is a member of the City Council.

“You’ve got some people that have been victimized and some people that have lucked out,” Clay said.

The luckier ones live in Clay’s ward.

When planes were being guided the conventional way, many headed over populated areas.

“It was to our advantage for me to get that turned on so the planes would fly a more precise course, they’d fly more along this major highway and less over the residential areas,” Clay said. He called the new technology “a good thing for my ward.”

But the precise flight patterns also fall over homes elsewhere in College Park.

“When you concentrate all the planes in a very narrow corridor, then you get a persistent all-day-long effect,” he said. “I compare it to a dripping faucet. That’s what the people under the flight tracks will experience.”

Around the Twin Cities airport, the technology is expected to benefit Richfield to the northwest and Eagan to the southeast by concentrating air traffic along expressways and a river valley.

Bennett on the Edina City Council and Airports Commissioner Greg Foster, who represents Minneapolis, said they hope the FAA can tweak the technology to placate some residents.

“Can you have that technology for the flight control and still have more dispersed traffic?” Bennett asked.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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