Airport advocacy group sending hundreds of letters to Congress

Each time the airport monitoring group MSP FairSkies signs on a new petitioner, emails automatically fly into the inboxes of federal, state and local officials — 650 at last count.

The email blasts are part of an effort to keep airport issues on everyone’s radar.

“We want to make sure people remember us,” said Steve Kittleson of MSP FairSkies.

The group is concerned about a potential change in flight paths called RNAV (area navigation), that would concentrate all plane traffic into a few routes, rather than fan it out across the map.

The FAA is rolling out RNAV across the country, and Minneapolis is one of the first nine airports lined up to try it. The change is designed to automate departures and create direct routes that are more predictable, safe and fuel efficient.

Southwest could be years away from seeing any change, however. In a May 15 update, the FAA reported that it is still reviewing the safety implications of initial RNAV implementation only south of the airport.

“Two years after partial implementation, we would have real data and a lot more information to work with,” said John Quincy (11th Ward).

State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) recently told a roomful of 100-plus Kenny residents that the issue is primarily a federal one. State officials have introduced bills that would require a more thorough environmental review of airport expansion and provide better access to Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) meetings.

“We have some influence, but it’s only influence,” Dibble said.

Bryan Simmons of MSP FairSkies said the FAA needs to understand MSP is “not a rubber stamp kind of airport.”

“It’s an uphill battle because it’s the FAA, it’s at the federal level,” he said.

Staff at Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Keith Ellison’s offices said they are monitoring the situation.

“Senator Klobuchar has been urging the FAA and Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to work with the local communities and consider the impact the flight path proposals will have on residents and businesses,” said Klobuchar spokesperson Brigit Helgen.

When Kevin Terrell discovered his house and home office might lie directly underneath a potential plane “highway” in Lynnhurst, he started doing some research. He pulled an all-nighter before a MAC meeting to put together a deck of information. Terrell now holds a gigabyte of info on the topic, and he’s presenting a 13-minute video to neighborhood groups like Kingfield and Kenny. (His video is online at mspfairskies.com/learn.)

At a recent meeting in Kingfield, Terrell showed maps of the potential flight paths. One of the heavily traveled routes over Southwest would pass over the lakes, and another would cut through Southwest south of 50th Street. More than 100 flights per day could travel on those flight paths at peak times, although the FAA says actual use would be much less.

“Thirty or so flight paths would be focused down into seven main paths [over Southwest Minneapolis],” Terrell said.

He said the new flight paths would cover large swathes of Southwest that historically experienced relatively few flights overhead.

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said flight paths would “largely overlay what is being done today,” however.

“The difference is that on board navigational equipment allows flight direction to be more precise,” she said in an email. “Coordinates are pre-loaded, like a GPS, and the human variance (a pilot waiting for heading, and taking the time to dial it in) is eliminated.”

MSP FairSkies volunteers are spending hundreds of hours researching potential changes and their impacts.

Terrell’s overview described the current noise level of planes, with volumes comparable to a vacuum cleaner or a lawn mower at arm’s length. He presented German research showing a .83 percent home price decline for every decibel of sustained noise over 40 decibels. And he provided examples of how other airports handle air traffic in urban areas: San Francisco pushes its departures out over the Bay.

He recently released a second video explaining the way airplane noise is measured here, and how the method compares to other countries.

Other MSP FairSkies members are looking into jet fuel pollution’s effects on children.

MAC Commissioner Lisa Peilen, who attended a May 2 airport forum in Kingfield, said she wants to work with impacted neighborhoods.

“A close-in airport is a very good thing in many ways,” she said, noting its importance as an economic engine. “The negative is, it’s a close-in airport. … There is always going to be some noise, the question is the equal distribution of it.”