This could be an important week for air travelers weary of flight delays at Philadelphia International Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration is at the center of two efforts moving on different tracks to relieve congestion at Philadelphia and New York-area airports. As anyone who uses them knows, PHL, Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy usually lead the list of airports with the most delayed flights.

At PHL, the FAA by mid-week could start using new takeoff paths meant to get airplanes up to higher altitudes and on their way faster, part of an airspace redesign plan in the works for a decade. The new departure headings would give air-traffic controllers the option of telling pilots to turn away sooner, and over some populated areas, from the path down the Delaware River they use now.

The agency, which could also start using similar takeoff procedures at Newark airport this week, says it expects to use the new flight paths only during periods of heavy air traffic.

As you may have heard, the plan is quite unpopular in parts of Delaware County, New Jersey and New York. Political leaders say it won't reduce delays by any measurable degree and will expose residents to more aircraft noise and air pollution. To read Delaware County's objections, go to

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U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) also has been a strong opponent. He told us last week that he had hoped the FAA would hold off using the new procedures until the Government Accountability Office completed a report next year on how the FAA developed the plan. But it doesn't look like that will happen.

The FAA has a voluminous online file that describes the plan and what it hopes to achieve. It can be found at

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Litigation filed by Delaware County in federal court could suspend implementation of the plan. But the FAA could proceed with it by Wednesday or Thursday.

We have heard from many of you about this issue, and now you have the opportunity to participate in reporting about it. Once the FAA starts using the new takeoff paths, tell us if you see or hear more planes overhead at lower altitudes than you do now. If you can, catch it on a video camera. Send us an e-mail or give us a call to say when and where you were, and the aircraft's direction. We will follow up, maybe report what you tell us or post it online.

The second development involves the U.S. Department of Transportation's effort to cut down on chronic delays at New York's Kennedy Airport. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters is widely expected to recommend reinstating hourly limits on JFK flights. Industry officials say that could limit expansion by new-entrant airlines, trim schedules of established carriers, and raise fares.

Once New Jersey's U.S. senators, Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, heard last week what Peters is likely to do, they asked what she would do for Newark, which often has as many or more delays as Kennedy. Without restrictions on both airports, airlines could try to expand at Newark, making its situation worse, they said.

No one is talking yet about forcing airlines to limit flights at PHL as a way to reduce delays. No doubt some travelers - and perhaps nearby residents - would welcome that.

But if you're concerned about the cost and the availability of airline service, be careful what you wish for. In the past, limits on flights per hour at Kennedy and Washington National Airport made fares there more expensive.

Contact staff writer Tom Belden at 215-854-2454 or tbelden@phillynews.com

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