Many Delaware County residents have made it clear that they despise the
Federal Aviation Administration's
proposal to change the way airplanes take off from
Philadelphia International Airport
Far less has been heard from those who may benefit from the Philadelphia-New York-New Jersey airspace redesign plan. They would be the 31.5 million travelers who flew in or out of the airport last year, as well as the 34,000 folks, many of whom live in Delaware County, whose jobs depend on the airport.
The airspace plan calls for directing some flights to make turns just after takeoff, carrying them over residential areas on both sides of the Delaware River. Political leaders in Delaware County have stayed on their message of opposition, using experts who dispute the FAA's determination that the "environmental impact" of the flights - mostly the noise of jets overhead - won't be too severe.
In an unusual move, the FAA revised the airspace plan in the last two months, cutting in half the number of flight paths over populated areas. The FAA also notes that any change in the paths means some people will hear less noise, a benefit pretty much lost in the cacophony.
The revisions haven't diminished the opposition, based on the number of citizens booing and vilifying FAA officials at last week's public meeting on the plan in Tinicum Township. (See http://go.philly.com/FAA07.)
The point of creating more pathways in the sky, of course, is to reduce flight delays at Philadelphia and New York-area airports. Between them, PHL, Kennedy, Newark and LaGuardia usually finish in the bottom five for U.S. airport on-time performance. So the FAA had a dilemma when it started working on this almost a decade ago: Ignore projections that even more people will be flying in the future, or look at a variety of ways to move traffic more efficiently.
Building new runways or using satellite navigation to replace World War II-era radar for air-traffic control may help speed takeoffs, but those solutions are years away. So in its slow, bureaucratic way, the FAA carried out its national mandate: Find ways to accommodate the demands of airlines and air travelers. It was inevitable that the noise would be heard in someone's backyard.
Perhaps, though, the notion of our backyard needs to be enlarged to include a region whose economy depends in good measure on the quality of its air service. Philadelphia's tourism trade and other industries can't thrive without dependable airlines and a decent airport. And low-fare airlines that have saved Philadelphia travelers millions of dollars through competition simply would not be here without the freedom to schedule as many flights as their customers want.
Look for some news in the next couple of weeks from US Airways and Southwest, PHL's largest airlines in numbers of passengers.
Southwest will be up first, with chief executive officer Gary Kelly in town Wednesday night and Thursday at the invitation of the Temple University School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. Perhaps the airline will take the opportunity to reveal plans for the additional flights from PHL that it says it wants to start.
On May 15, US Airways will hold its annual shareholders meeting at the Radisson Warwick Hotel in Center City. Look for some pilots in uniform and some of the airline's other 5,600 PHL-based employees to show a keen interest.
To read Tom Belden's Road Warrior blog, visit http://blogs.phillynews.com/inquirer/roadwarrior/EndText