Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Complaints lead FAA to alter flight patterns

By Amy Griffith,

Air traffic over East Nashville will return to previous flight patterns after residents complained about hearing 10 planes or more per night flying over. Bloomberg News

Decisions to divert air traffic over East Nashville this summer created a lot of noise. And it didn’t just come from the planes.

In response to mass noise-related complaints from East Nashville residents, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will be returning flight patterns to their previous paths, according to a Monday announcement from the Metro Nashville Airport Authority.

“We had no idea we’d get the response we did. That was totally unexpected,” said Butch Gelband, planning manager for the MNAA, on Monday. “We’re… sensitive to the community. We can’t please everybody, but we sure do the best we can.”

Returning the planes to their original, pre-East Nashville flight patterns means temporarily directing them back over downtown Nashville in a way that is slightly out of compliance with FAA regulations governing building clearance, which is why the FAA redirected traffic over East Nashville in the first place.

Gelband said the move is temporary, until another solution can be found.

“We’re going to try to find a solution that won’t affect people, if we can,” Gelband said.

Beginning July 2, air traffic over eastern and southern sections of Nashville reached a high volume when traffic on Runway 31 — the runway for the airport’s largest planes — was redirected in compliance with FAA regulations requiring aircraft to be above an object within a three-mile radius while climbing.

One week after the change, traffic over those areas increased even more when the MNAA closed a westbound runway for repairs, resulting in planes from the under-construction runway to be assigned to Runway 31.

Traffic increases from construction alone multiplied the traffic over East Nashville by five times over the volume resulting from Runway 31 changes.

Residents reported hearing 10 or more planes flying overhead on any given evening, at noise levels loud enough to stop outdoor conversations, they said.

According to MNAA, all traffic on Runway 31 has now been returned to its former flight path, due in large part to the feedback from East Nashvillians.

Gelband said MNAA and FAA are currently working to find a solution to meeting downtown building clearance requirements in a way that doesn’t “impact people the way it has,” Gelband said.

As to whether the flights over downtown pose a danger, Gelband said the flight paths of planes leaving Nashville are not out of compliance by much, and the FAA rules leave some “room for exceptions.”

“There are planes that are within that three-mile radius all around the country,” Gelband said.

The MNAA and FAA will have some time to find a solution, as Runway 31 is scheduled to close for repairs at the end of this month. Gelband said the growth of downtown Nashville — which could potentially add to the skyline’s height, if plans for buildings including the Westin and Signature Tower are completed — are among topics to be considered.