The city has presented an alternative proposal for expanding Philadelphia International Airport that would save 72 houses in Tinicum Township and relocate United Parcel Service from along the Delaware to a spot in Cargo City farther from residential neighbors.
Mayor Nutter met Thursday with key airport stakeholders, including US Airways Group, UPS, and Delaware County officials, to discuss a plan aimed at saving the homes and 10 businesses, and moving UPS's large airfreight operation close to International Terminal A and nearly a mile from any homes.
The original airport expansion plan, with a price tag estimated between $6.4 billion and $10.5 billion, calls for building a fifth runway along the river by uprooting UPS from 212 acres and filling in 241/2 acres in the river.
Tinicum has fought the expansion because of the expected noise from cargo planes at night and because it will lose tax revenue if residents and businesses are uprooted.
Airlines, led by US Airways, which would foot much of the bill, support parts of the expansion but not a new runway.
Thursday's meeting, which was not publicly announced, was billed as a first step to get community and airline feedback.
"US Airways is currently analyzing the new proposal," a spokesman said.
The latest plan would relocate freight carriers in an area known as Cargo City, including FedEx and a US Airways maintenance facility, to the airport's northwest corner, where UPS was to go.
Even the new plan would put cargo planes closer to homes than they are now. But the plan saves the homes and shifts busy UPS, with an airfreight hub and 28 arriving and 28 departing flights per day, farther from the Tinicum community than the original plan calls for.
Officials who attended the meeting had mixed reactions.
State Rep. Nick Miccarelli (R., Delaware) said that while UPS would be farther from the homes, the nighttime noise from the other airfreight carriers would still be so loud, "residents will not be able to stay in their homes."
"Cargo jets taking off and leaving in the middle of the night is still not a tenable situation," he said.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) said the new plan was "encouraging" because the Tinicum homes would be spared. "I think it's a meaningful step forward," he said.
Airport chief executive officer Mark Gale said the latest proposal would be "much quieter" for Tinicum. That's because UPS would be 4,100 feet, or nearly a mile, from the nearest homes.
The other cargo operators, FedEx and DHL, which would be closer to homes, have only six daily flights combined, all of which leave by 11 p.m., and there are no inbound flights until about 6 a.m.
UPS, on the other hand, has flights arriving at 11 p.m. or midnight, and after packages are sorted and loaded, planes leave at 4 or 5 a.m. "A tremendous amount of UPS activity takes place between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.," but not close to the neighborhood, he said.
Gale said the key objective was to save the homes and as many businesses as possible.
"The second thing for the residents was not just, 'Don't acquire the homes,' but also try to do something with the noise," Gale said. "We believe by moving the UPS property much further to the east and closer to the terminal complex," the noise will be lessened.
While the new UPS location would have 155 acres vs. 212 now, "we believe they could double the size of their existing facility and their aircraft ramp," Gale said.
The expansion would take from 13 to 15 years. The changes would require approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We're hoping to get feedback from Tinicum Township, UPS, and US Airways in mid-January to see if we have a concept that works for everybody," Gale said. "If it does, it would be our intention to formally present the plan to the FAA for review and evaluation."
As for the city's desire for a new runway, "we have not changed the administration's position that ultimately a new runway is needed for Philadelphia," Gale said. "We remain in negotiations, primarily with US Airways but the other airlines as well, in terms of the overall path forward. It's just a question of which pieces come first and how we put the plan together to everybody's satisfaction."