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Over flight and altitude issues discussed at aircraft workshop

By Staff | Mar 23, 2012

Many concerned Beach residents and visitors on various aircraft issues got an eyeful at Chapel by the Sea at the Southwest Florida International Airport overview concerning Federal Aviation Administration regulations of the Part 150 Noise and Land Use Study on Wednesday, March 21.

The third workshop in the three-part series featured many visual aids to support a comprehensive view of the actual study, operational statistics of the airport and noise contours that were developed from noise modeling efforts. New information was also provided.

“We have provided the draft recommendations and graphics depicting the results coming out of this study. Those are here for folks to review,” said Sarah Brammell, managing associate at Environmental Science Associates’. “We also talk about the updated proposed land use overlay zones at the airport.”

ESA’s Mike Arnold, the project manager for the study, said the purpose of the third workshop was to show the results of the analysis and provide recommendations. The first workshop kicked off the study, while the second one examined noise conditions around the airport, collected feedback from the residents and analyzed the results.

“There was a lot of community concerns raised by Fort Myers Beach,” said Arnold. “We have taken a look at all of them, and we have many recommendations that provide benefits to the residents here.”

Arnold said recommendations focus on island over flight and altitude issues.

“There are procedures that are being implemented right now by the FAA, which Southwest Airlines took the lead on, that turn the aircraft before they reach the Beach. The aircraft are being re-routed through the middle of the state and are turning much earlier,” he said. “The other issue that we are recommending is raising the altitude of the procedures for the aircraft that come into the airport, so that the published procedure actually reflects a higher flight point intercept.”

ESA statistics show annual arrival and departure operations at RSW have dramatically increased from more than 50,000 flights in 1990 to nearly 160,000 flights projected for 2030.

Quality of life concerns for Estero Island include noise from aircraft flying as low as 1,600 feet. ESA officials are seeking for altitudes more in the 3,000-foot range.

“We are doing some type of step-down where if the aircraft were higher coming over the Beach, then they might decrease their altitude and continue to fly at a lower altitude until they intercept the drive path,” said Arnold.

Beach residents are sensitive about noise issues caused by low flying airplanes. If aircraft cannot be re-routed to a course south of the island, at least minimize last nigh/early morning flights over residential areas.

Noise measurements have been taken on the Beach, but Arnold stated the FAA examines noise at a cumulative basis instead of an individual aircraft basis.

“That’s the challenge. People don’t complain about the cumulative noise, they complain about a single aircraft over-flight,” he said. “Here in Florida, we have pretty significant peaking activity that occurs with the seasonal residents. Because it’s the same time when everyone wants to have there windows open, people notice the noise more at this time of the year because of that.”

Other aircraft issues affecting Beach citizens involve air quality, wildlife, soot, safety and lowering of property value.

The next step is for ESA officials to formulate study recommendations for review at a formal public hearing by the Lee County Port Authority Board of Directors at an unspecified date in the fall of 2012.

“People will have an opportunity to comment at that time,” said Arnold. “From there, we would incorporate the transcripts, address the comments made at the public hearing and submit the draft document to the FAA for initial review. The FAA will review it to make sure it complies with all of their requirements, and then we will incorporate any changes that they made at that time before formally submitting the document to the FAA, which they would issue their approval on. They are known to specifically address every recommendation with an approval or disapproval.”

If all measures fall into place, implementation may occur in late 2013.