More than 400 people gathered in the auditorium of Washburn High School in Minneapolis on Tuesday night to voice concerns about proposed rerouting of air traffic across the city and its surrounding suburbs.
The proposed concentration of airplanes along fewer paths is part of a Federal Aviation Administration plan to modernize the nation's air traffic system. The FAA says the changes will save fuel and increase safety. But people who live in neighborhoods under the concentrated routes the FAA wants to use say the plan will increase noise and hurt property values.
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The plan was approved last November by the Metropolitan Airports Commission Noise Oversight Committee last November. But after a public outcry, the full commission later voted to implement only part of the plan, exempting two runways that would have concentrated more air traffic into south Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs.
Steve Kittleson, a member of MSP Fair Skies Coalition, which formed to oppose the new flight plans, said he wants more hard data on how the flight path changes might impact residents' lives.
"I refer to it as a freeway in the sky," Kittleson said. "We do have our fair share of air traffic, and what we're really interested in retaining is the quality of life that we have right now."
Airports commission spokesman Patrick Hogan said the FAA's goal is to implement the program at the nation's largest airports, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, by 2025. Some airports across the country, including the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, have already put some parts of the new plan into place.
"It changes the national aviation system from a radar-based system to a satellite-based system based on GPS," Hogan said. "Aircraft now have equipment in the planes that allow them to go on specific coordinates, and the FAA is trying to use that around the country instead of radar because it provides a number of advantages in terms of safety and efficiency."
Part of that efficiency is derived from the consolidation of routes.
FAA officials have expressed concern about the safety of partially implementing the plan. But FAA Great Lakes regional administrator Barry Cooper said he was at Tuesday's meeting mostly to listen to people's concerns.
"In the end, our job is to serve the needs of the American people, the people who use the system and the people that live with the system," Cooper said. "That creates some pretty complex issues -- this is one of them."
People living in south Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs questioned why there were no studies about the environmental, health or economic impacts of rerouting air traffic.
Allison Little, who lives close to nearby Diamond Lake Road, said there's already too much air traffic going over her house. She's concerned that the FAA plan would bring even more planes if it goes forward, even in the current form.
"If they're going to do it 10 times what we're getting, it's not going to be livable," Little said. "It's about not being able to be outside with neighbors; it's about not being able to have your windows open."
Richfield City Council member Tom Fitzhenry said he's in favor of the FAA plan, but is worried that the partial implementation proposed by the MAC will lead the federal agency to reject the whole plan.
"As a pilot and as an ex-[air traffic] controller, I know it's really difficult when you have people on two different pages," Fitzhenry said. "Partial implementations are hard to do."
Following the meeting, both U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison and Erik Paulsen said they would make sure the FAA understood their constituents' concerns about the revised flight plans.
"We had both Republican and Democrat here tonight in full agreement that we've got to look after our communities that are affected by this airport noise," Ellison said. "There will be all types of ways that we can impact this problem and make the FAA as responsive as the citizens deserve it to be."
The FAA hasn't yet released the final decision on how flight plans in the region will be changed.
Click and view maps of the proposed flight path changes below.
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