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New takeoff paths begin with a quiet roar

New flight paths took effect yesterday. And some howls went up from the ground. But neither was as severe as expected, at least on the first day the Federal Aviation Administration put in place two of three new aircraft routes it is using for departing flights at Philadelphia International Airport.

New flight paths took effect yesterday. And some howls went up from the ground.

But neither was as severe as expected, at least on the first day the Federal Aviation Administration put in place two of three new aircraft routes it is using for departing flights at Philadelphia International Airport.

Nearly a decade in the works, the FAA air-traffic plan has drawn public outcry and pending litigation. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a Delaware County motion for a stay.

FAA officials said it started using two new takeoff routes from Philadelphia during two periods yesterday, 9 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 7 p.m. Only about 100 flights yesterday morning were directed along the paths, with parts of Gloucester County and Delaware County most affected by the change so far.

"We will be flying over communities that we have not flown over before," said Jim Peters, regional spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. "The controllers have the option to use the two additional headings to get aircraft out of the airport."

Just after 9 a.m. in Ridley Township, Joe Mellon had not noticed anything, but he was braced for the worse.

"It's ridiculous," Mellon said. "Summertime, when we sit out on our decks . . . we have to deal with the planes flying over." He worries that Ridley Township will turn into a Tinicum Township, where he lived before. "You could almost throw a rock and hit an airplane. . . . I was right on the water."

Mikey Buddy, a Wawa cashier, was already thinking about next summer. "I'm not going to be able to sit outside at nighttime," she said.

Over in South Jersey, howls were not heard.

In Gibbstown, the distant roar of jets climbing above the Delaware River every minute did not bother Lisa Romano, 23, a graduate student at Rowan University.

"They've never caused too much noise, but at the same time, we might be used to it," she said.

As one jet rose hard and then banked southward, Romano noticed.

"This is louder now," she said, but added, "inside, we wouldn't notice."

A gas station attendant and a letter carrier in the neighborhood both said they did not notice anything different about the planes.

George W. Shivery Jr., the mayor of Greenwich Township, which encompasses Gibbstown, said that his municipality had had to deal with an ever-increasing number of plane takeoffs over the years. He worries about quality of life.

Shivery was also concerned that more planes were taking off in line with a number of industrial facilities, thus increasing the chance for a disaster.

"We just can't turn these planes loose without looking at all these things," Shivery said.

Planes taking off to the west make a 10-degree turn and then follow the Delaware River as they have for years, going six miles downriver or to an altitude of 3,000 feet. Air traffic controllers then instruct pilots to make slight turns - about 13 degrees to the north over Delaware County, or 10 degrees to the south, over Gloucester County.

Because of cold weather this time of year, aircraft climb faster than they do in summer, reaching 3,000 feet about three to five miles downriver. When the weather is hot and air heavier, jets need up to six miles to reach 3,000 feet.

The FAA also plans to use a third takeoff path from Philadelphia International that would be a sharper turn to the south over New Jersey but needs more time to coordinate its use with other changes in air-traffic flows, officials said.

Two new departure routes will be used when planes are taking off to the east that will turn them less than 10 degrees to the north at the 3,000-foot level. Because of prevailing winds, planes take off to the west about 70 percent of the time, including yesterday.

The three new departure paths in each direction replaced the FAA's original plan to use six new headings for planes taking off to the west and four to the east. That plan would have taken more aircraft over the Delaware County areas closer to the airport, but a wave of protest prompted the agency to modify it last spring to three routes to the west and two to the east.

The FAA has said it does not plan to use any of the new departure routes at night.

Airlines, business leaders and some residents of the region in Delaware County and elsewhere have spoken up for the plan, saying it offers hope to reduce congestion and delays at Philadelphia International.

But the Delaware County Council chairman, Andrew Reilly, was fuming. He said the county learned only late Tuesday that the U.S. Court of Appeals had denied its motion for a stay.

"The FAA's action illustrates this agency's disregard for the safety and well-being of Delaware County residents," Reilly said in a statement.

The county asked that the implementation be delayed until its appeal of the FAA plan is decided. About a dozen cities, counties and groups in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have filed appeals. The litigation is expected to be consolidated into one case, said John McBlain, Delaware County's attorney.

Only the three major New York-area airports - Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark - usually have more delayed flights each month than Philadelphia does.

Philadelphia airport officials have been largely silent on what the FAA is doing. Aviation director Charles J. Isdell has said he wants to use all available means to reduce delays but that he is sensitive to concern about increased noise for those living near the airport.

If the people on the ground could not hear the difference, the air-traffic controllers in the tower felt it.

"There was never any live testing of this," said Don Chapman, local representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "The pilots are taking wrong turns. We saw it this morning."

FAA spokesman Peters disputed the controllers' criticism. "The National Air Traffic Controllers union assertion that the procedures we began to use today are not safe is certainly untrue," Peters said. "FAA's mandate is to provide a safe operating environment at Philadelphia International Airport. The procedures that we began using today certainly meet that mandate."

Elected officials dispute whether the plan will even succeed in reducing delays.

"It was intended solely to help delays in New York and does nothing to solve the real problem at Philadelphia International," State Rep. Bryan Lentz, who represents part of Delaware County, said in a statement. "Redirecting flights will not accommodate the projected 50 percent increase in traffic."

What do local residents think about the new takeoff routes? Find out in a video at