When Natalie Rutzell heard Charlotte Douglas International Airport was creating a roundtable to find solutions to aircraft noise, she was pleased.
She hoped the group would force the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration and American Airlines to disperse departures over a wider area, so her neighborhood, The Sanctuary, wouldn’t be blanketed with noise.
The roundtable will have 23 members, including representatives from areas that have little or no airport noise, such as Mint Hill, Matthews and east Charlotte. With committee members set aside for those areas, Rutzell and others are worried that she and her neighbors won’t have much of a voice on the new group, which plans to hold its first meeting next week.
“Our chances of being represented seem small,” said Rutzell, whose neighborhood on Lake Wylie is in the flight path of many southbound departures.
Dave Chavoustie, another Sanctuary activist who has been lobbying the airport to disperse departures, agrees.
“If I was on the committee and I don’t live near the airport, why would I see this as a problem?” he said. “Why would I care?”
He said neither he nor any of his friends and neighbors have been contacted to be on the roundtable, despite the airport telling him that areas like The Sanctuary and Chapel Cove lodge more complaints than any other area.
“They were rejected by the committee,” he said.
Aviation Director Brent Cagle said the new roundtable will intentionally draw representatives from a wide area, in part because any changes to flight paths that result from their work will shift noise to areas that don’t currently get much. And though the airport often fields the brunt of complaints from residents about noise, it’s the federal government that sets the flight routes and determines where pilots fly.
“We thought the most fair and equitable way to do it was to have a wide range,” said Cagle. “It represents everyone...(The FAA) wants to hear from people who might get airplanes over their houses from a changed flight pattern.”
Although airplanes are usually higher up when they fly over further-out areas, Cagle said Charlotte Douglas receives complaints from all over, not just neighborhoods directly north and south of the runways.
“We get noise complaints from people who live a mile from the airport or two miles from the airport, and we get noise complaints from people who live 20 miles away,” said Cagle. “They’re all valid noise complaints.”
“This is an issue that affects literally the entire area,” said Cagle.
As Charlotte Douglas has grown into the world’s fifth-busiest airport based on arrivals and departures, residents north and south of the airport have felt much of the impact. More than 700 flights a day depart Charlotte Douglas, headed to 165 nonstop destinations.
The FAA recently began implementing technology nationwide that allows air traffic controllers to keep planes closer together on narrow paths, or “rails.” The FAA said the program, called NextGen, is more efficient and saves fuel.
But in Charlotte, former mayor Anthony Foxx and the City Council asked the FAA to reverse that. Instead of placing planes on narrow paths, they asked the federal government to disperse departures over a wider area. Their logic: More people might be exposed to noise, but fewer homeowners would be impacted repeatedly.
Chavoustie said that’s a good approach. But he said when the airport gets busy, air traffic controllers revert to sending departures over the same path. That’s right over his house, he said.
Charlotte Douglas said the roundtable’s goal is to develop “technical recommendations rather than providing a general public discussion forum.” The airport said the FAA, airlines and the airport will advise the group.
The roundtable’s 23 members will include:
▪ A member from each of the City Council’s seven districts.
▪ A member from each of Mecklenburg County’s six commission districts.
▪ A member from each of the county’s seven cities and towns: Charlotte, Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville. But Cagle said the airport is still seeking applicants from the towns, and only has members from Charlotte and Huntersville so far.
▪ A member each from Mecklenburg, Gaston and York counties.
But a U.S. Department of Transportation map modeling noise shows that many of those areas, or towns, are impacted little or not at all by aircraft noise.
For instance, City Council District 1 is in uptown, Plaza Midwood and Myers Park – areas directly east of Charlotte Douglas and out of the airport’s primary north-south operations. The same goes for District 5 in east Charlotte along Albemarle Road and much of District 4 near University City. Matthews and Mint Hill are also impacted far less by aircraft noise.
But Cagle said that depending on flight paths, noise complaints vary. When airplanes approach the airport’s crosswind runway, they fly roughly southwest along Interstate 85. That generates a lot of complaints from other parts of the city. And Cagle said that as long as residential growth continues in Charlotte, especially in booming areas like Steele Creek, more people will hear planes.
“We get lots of noise complaints out of the university city area,” said Cagle. “The reality is we’re a massive airport, and we’re an urban airport.”
The airport’s long-range plan calls for the crosswind runway to be closed, possibly next decade, when a fourth parallel runway opens.
“We’re doing our best to be fair and equitable,” said Cagle. “There’s no perfect solution, quite honestly. This is a very, very hard thing.”