County Sues FAA to Block Philadelphia Airport Flight Routes

SEPTEMBER 14, 2007

Delaware County officials, keeping a vow they made last week, filed suit today in an effort to stop the Federal Aviation Administration from routing more airplanes over residential areas as a way to reduce flight delays. County officials contended in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, that the FAA did not fully study the environmental effects of its airspace redesign plan for the Philadelphia and New York areas. What's more, the suit said, based on the federal agency's own data, the plan will result in only small reductions in delays of flights taking off from Philadelphia International Airport.

The FAA announced last week that it could begin using the new headings for airplanes taking off from Philadelphia and four New York-area airports by the end of October. Most flights leaving Philadelphia now head west, over the Delaware River, before making turns after reaching about 3,000 feet. When air traffic is at its heaviest, the FAA wants to direct pilots to turn immediately after takeoff and go in one of three directions, including over portions of lower Delaware County and Gloucester County that now hear relatively little aircraft noise.

The lawsuit was filed in the federal appeals court for the region because it is a petition for review of an order of a federal administrative agency, county officials said in a statement. Similar suits were filed last week against the FAA by the city of Elizabeth, N.J., and Rockland County, N.Y. The FAA as a matter of policy does not comment on pending litigation, agency spokeswoman Arlene Salac-Murray said.

Delaware County announced the suit at a bipartisan news conference at the Tinicum Township Municipal Building, attended by the five members of the Republican-dominated County Council and U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, a Democrat. "The peak noise levels will be intolerable to residents who live below the new flight paths, which will have large jets and other aircraft passing only hundreds of feet above rooftops in many of our neighborhoods," Reilly said in the statement.

Sestak called litigation a "powerful strategy to hold the FAA accountable for following the correct process" as it developed the airspace redesign plan. The agency's plan, almost a decade in the making, involves numerous changes in routes and other procedures designed to keep planes moving efficiently through what it calls "the busiest, the most complex airspace in the world." On any given day, the FAA says, one-sixth of the world's air traffic flows through the airspace encompassing Philadelphia and New York.

Flight delays at Philadelphia International and Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports in the New York area are usually the worst in the country. From January through July, 64.4 percent of Philadelphia flights arrived on time and 67.1 percent departed on time, the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported last week. At the three New York-area airports, less than 60 percent of the flights were on time during the seven-month period.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

See also: Delaware County press release