Delco to weigh in on Philly airspace redesign

May 10, 2009 11:49:25 AM PDT
Officials of a suburban Philadelphia county are heading to Washington, D.C. this week to take part in a challenge to the changes in aircraft flight paths put into effect at Philadelphia International Airport a year and a half ago. Jack Whelan, vice chairman of the Delaware County Council, and the county solicitor, John McBlain, plan to consult with attorneys arguing on behalf of the county before a three-judge panel of the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

A dozen entities including the county filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration after partial implementation of the airspace redesign plan in December 2007. The county is one of only three of the plaintiffs that will argue the case before the court.

The changes allow departing planes to travel in multiple directions, rather than just follow a single path, which the agency says reduces delays in the congested airspace. But opponents say the plan subjects too many residential areas to jet engine noise and other problems.

County officials say the plan fails to comply with federal environmental and transportation laws.

"They failed to do any analysis or modeling of whether the new runway patterns would impact air quality in the area," McBlain said. "The FAA, we believe, wrongly tried to enact regulations after the process was over, to say the airspace redesign is presumed to conform to clean air policies, it won't have an impact, presumptively, so we don't need to study it."

Whelan said the FAA also did not assess the impact of the redesign on the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the airport, which presents additional safety concerns due to bird strikes.

"God forbid there is a bird strike and a plane goes down that isn't over the river," said Whelan, noting the county's many homes, hospitals and schools. "It would just be a catastrophe."

The appeals court earlier dismissed a petition for review of FAA policies and procedures. The Government Accountability Office last year examined the plan and said the FAA never conducted a cost/benefit analysis, but its nearly 100-page report concluded that the agency had complied with environmental requirements.

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Information from: Delaware County Daily Times, http://www.delcotimes.com

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