After the Federal Aviation Administration recently announced it was leaning toward what Delaware County officials say was the worst possible alternative for redesigning the region's airspace, the FAA yesterday released a noise-mitigation report that those same officials swiftly rejected as insufficient.
The administration's "preferred alternative" would create more overhead noise for county residents by allowing planes departing from Philadelphia International Airport to turn north shortly after takeoff.
Currently, airplanes departing to the west fly over the Delaware River until they reach an altitude of 3,000 feet.
Facing almost universal opposition from area residents - and politicians from the municipal to the federal level - the FAA crafted a noise-mitigation strategy in which the new departure headings "tend to be grouped closer to the river corridors" than in the original plan, according to yesterday's report.
The new proposal reduces the number of initial departure headings over Delaware County from four to one, with the remaining heading splitting into two east of Chester City.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who, along with Delaware County Council Chairman Andrew Reilly, has clashed with the FAA in recent months, said the noise mitigation represents "some progress," but not nearly enough.
"It's still not acceptable, what we have right now," Sestak said yesterday, after reviewing the 66-page document.
"They've taken a step," he said. "It's not a sufficient step."
Reilly, who has threatened to sue the FAA if it doesn't abandon its plan to fan low-flying aircraft over Ridley Township and other municipalities, said the FAA is overstating the reduction in flight delays by not accounting for military aircraft and traffic from other airports.
"We're given a false choice: 'Do you want the plan with mitigation or without mitigation?' Well, we don't want the plan with the fanning at all," Reilly said. "The plan, even if implemented fully, does not measurably reduce flight delays at Philadelphia International Airport."
Although the reductions may be minor in Philadelphia, FAA spokesman Jim Peters said delays here cause a ripple effect throughout the nation.
The plan that was introduced yesterday, which is available on the FAA's Web site, provides "limited relief where we can," Peters said. "You can never eliminate all noise."
Residents can learn more about the plan May 1 at the FAA's public hearing at the Holiday Inn in Tinicum Township.
In the meantime, Nina Walls, a retired teacher from Ridley Park, says the benefits of the new flight patterns aren't worth the impact on the quality of life, such as increased noise and pollution and the safety threat posed by planes flying over schools and homes.
"Most people I've talked to in Ridley Park are dead-set against anything except keeping them over the river," she said.
Walls, like several of the area's politicians, wants the FAA to consider offloading some of the burden on airports in Atlantic City, Allentown and elsewhere in the region.