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Sestak: Flight paths being rushed

Says FAA pulls fast one on Delco residents

U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak says the Federal Aviation Administration is trying to pull a fast one on Delaware County residents by rushing the implementation of new flight paths over their homes.

The FAA says it's just sticking to its original timeline for redesigning the airspace over the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia metropolitan area to reduce flight delays.

It hasn't agreed on anything else, so why start now?

Opposition to the FAA's plan to modernize the air-traffic system in the Northeast corridor has united area politicians from both parties who say it will reduce the quality of life for thousands of residents.

It's been a knock-down-drag-out fight that will intensify next week when Delaware County files a motion asking a federal judge to block the FAA from proceeding.

County officials want the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to delay the airspace redesign until about a dozen lawsuits challenging its legality can be heard. If the motion is denied, planes could begin roaring over the county as early as Dec. 17.

"We're always pretty suspicious of the FAA, to be frank," said Sestak, D-Pa., who represents most of Delaware County. "They have not dealt with us honestly and forthrightly."

Sestak said the agency had assured him in September that the plan would not be enacted for at least eight months to a year. That would have given the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, enough time to complete a cost-benefit analysis.

"This is the FAA rushing to implement a plan that will cut 26 seconds from the average flight delay at the airport," said Andrew Reilly, chairman of the Delaware County Council.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said that the airspace redesign will be phased in over five years but that planes flying out of Philadelphia airport could begin using three new departure headings as early as this month.

"The three headings give us the flexibility to get aircraft out effectively and efficiently," Peters said, adding that the overall plan will reduce flight delays by 12 million minutes annually by 2011 at major airports in the Northeast.

Peters said the agency is keeping with the schedule it set forth in September for implementing the redesign. Citing the ongoing litigation, he declined to comment on lawmakers' concerns that the FAA violated federal environmental regulations in approving the plan. *