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Use of new flight paths is delayed

The expected noise from jets departing Philadelphia spurred lawsuits. The FAA will wait for a ruling.

A legal challenge by Delaware County has led the Federal Aviation Administration to postpone its planned implementation Monday of controversial new flight paths for jets taking off from Philadelphia International Airport.

The FAA will wait "several days" for a court ruling in Delaware County's litigation, FAA spokesman Jim Peters said yesterday. But he declined to give a new firm date when the FAA intends to implement the new flight paths.

Besides Delaware County, 11 other cities, counties and groups in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have filed federal court petitions protesting the FAA's Sept. 5 decision to use the takeoff routes as part of an airspace redesign plan. The plan creates new routes that pilots can use soon after takeoff that would send planes over portions of Delaware County and South Jersey that now do not hear much aircraft noise.

The airspace plan, almost a decade in the making, is an effort to cut down on chronic delays in the congested airspace surrounding Philadelphia and four New York-area airports.

The FAA's effort has the support of airlines and economic-development agencies, including the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's CEO Council for Growth, which say delays at the airports hamper job growth and efforts to attract companies to the region.

Most of the litigation, originally filed in various federal district and appeals courts in Philadelphia, Newark or New York, is expected to be consolidated into one case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Delaware County officials said.

The petitions, filed as appeals of an administrative decision by a federal agency, challenge the procedures the FAA used to determine that the airspace plan would have a limited effect on the environment.

Delaware County has filed an additional lawsuit in the same appeals court in Washington, asserting that the FAA did not follow procedures required by the federal Clean Air Act when it adopted the plan, county solicitor John McBlain said.

Currently, jetliners leaving Philadelphia International are supposed to fly down the Delaware River until they are at an altitude well over 3,000 feet. The airspace plan would create three exit routes when planes are six miles downriver, or at 3,000 feet, one curving westward over Delaware County, a second extending southward over the county, and a third banking eastward over Gloucester County.

The flight-path plan anticipates little change for landing patterns at the airport, with most planes approaching over northern Camden County.

FAA officials have said they responded to the public's protests about the airspace plan by reducing the takeoff headings from seven to three, thus sharply limiting the number of Delaware County residents who will hear more noise from departing aircraft.