Neighbors mobilize to fight new flight plan

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) board voted 12 to 1 on Nov. 19 to endorse new technology from the Federal Aviation Administration known as Performance-Based Navigation over Eagan and other east metro suburbs, but not neighborhoods in southwest Minneapolis, Edina and Richfield.

“MAC board members heard a lot of concern and opposition from residents and city leaders of Minneapolis and Richfield residents,” said MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan. “The area northwest of the airport is always the biggest challenge because of the population density and the fact there are no routes that wouldn’t impact one neighborhood or another. Now it is up the to FAA to determine whether they are willing to implement performance based navigation at MSP on only a partial basis, to the south and east.”

Performance-Based Navigation would guide takeoffs along specific routes, allowing pilots to use canned takeoff procedures with minimal direction from the control tower. The strategy is designed to streamline departures and save fuel.

The heaviest new flight paths in Southwest Minneapolis would have followed Highway 62, a route south of 50th Street, and a track over Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.

Pockets of Southwest residents have mobilized in recent weeks as they learned of the plans, printing fliers, building lawn signs and contacting elected officials.

Fulton resident Steve Kittleson created an online petition to delay the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s recommendation to the FAA.

The website featured an illustration of a low-flying plane dropping bombs labeled “noise.”

The website got the commission’s attention — during a Nov. 13 open house in Eagan, MAC Chairman Dan Boivin pulled out a cell phone to check the rising tally of signatures. The site had 150 signatures at the time, and as this issue went to press, the total approached 3,000.

Kittleson said he understands that the original premise of Performance-Based Navigation is to concentrate planes over high-density freeways or industrial areas.

“I fail to see where that exists in our neighborhood,” he said.

Minneapolis lawmakers and members of the City Council also raised concerns about the proposed changes before the Nov. 19 vote, arguing the public didn’t have enough time to learn about the potential impact on neighborhoods.

State Sen. Scott Dibble and State Rep. Frank Hornstein and other Minneapolis lawmakers sent a letter to Boivin on Nov. 16 asking for a delay on the Nov. 19 vote.

 “As lawmakers representing one of the most heavily affected neighborhoods in the airport’s path, we strongly believe the process offered thus far has not been adequate for such a significant change to airport operations,” Dibble said. “We are respectfully asking the MAC to delay the vote and allow our constituents — the people who will be dealing with increased traffic and stemming consequences on a daily basis — to have an opportunity to review the plan and offer thoughtful input.”

City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said she was pleased that the MAC listened to the opposition voiced by residents, but added she wished the community had been engaged earlier in the process.  

Residents living south of 50th Street said they were nervous about the potential change, explaining that they currently see little air traffic.

“I am a classical musician, and I didn’t want a lot of airplane noise,” said Sara Thompson, a Fulton resident. “For people living under the heaviest flight path, criteria for buying a house included lower airport noise.”

Karen Barton, a resident of Kenny, said she hoped MAC would have given residents time to understand the changes.

“There is no real harm in giving people the opportunity to fully understand the impact and look at all the alternatives available,” Barton said. “I was frantic last week to let all my neighbors know what’s going on.”

Performance-Based Navigation is not a new science. It started appearing in 2005 at airports like Atlanta, Las Vegas and Dallas. Unlike Minneapolis, other airports with this system aren’t densely populated near the runways, said Nan Terry, an FAA environmental specialist. She said other cities that implemented the system did not report significant increases in noise complaints.

The Minneapolis airport’s Noise Oversight Committee has analyzed Performance-Based Navigation since 2007, with the goal of reducing noticeable airport noise by sending air traffic along desirable routes. Southern suburbs will see traffic concentrated over the Minnesota River Valley, but in Minneapolis, it’s much harder to design a popular flight path.

“In general, we followed Cedar and Crosstown,” said Carl Rydeen, the airport’s assistant air traffic manager.

When Rydeen sat down to develop the new flight paths, his original design sent all of the Southwest-area planes along Crosstown. But he couldn’t send planes nose-to-tail, because the required three-mile spread between planes would hurt the airport’s capacity. So instead, he spread the routes about 18 degrees apart in Southwest.

“There is no good slam dunk,” he said.