South Charlotte

Residents upset over noise from airplanes

It used to be exciting when the occasional plane flew over Scott Schneider's home in Park Crossing.

Schneider, 48, and his 10-year-old son, Bo, an aspiring pilot, would peer through binoculars at them.

But the novelty has worn off.

A little more than a year ago, the flight paths in and out of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport changed, bringing hundreds of planes over the south Charlotte neighborhood and surrounding communities - about 14 miles from the airport.

Neighbors say the noise from the planes is thunderous, especially on weekends.

"What we now have is a super concentration of these flights," said Schneider, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2002. "Ninety seconds later, another one's coming. It goes on and on and on."

"This is a nightmare down here in south Charlotte," said Tom Olinger, a 20-year Park Crossing resident and member of the neighborhood board of directors. "On a Saturday afternoon, you can't sit on the deck and have a conversation. It's like the bombers in Vietnam making a run."

In April 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration established new procedures for arriving and departing planes throughout the country.

Previously, pilots used radar technology to take off and land, which made for a less-precise flight path. Planes now are outfitted with satellite technology that allows them to follow a narrow, well-defined flight pattern, said Kathleen Bergen, manager of Atlantic Media Relations for the FAA.

Haley Gentry, public affairs manager for Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, explained: "If you were to look at it on a map, you would see, beforehand, a fanning of air-traffic-control lines, like a hand spread out," said Gentry. "Now it's like having two fingers spread, and that's great if you're outside one of those fingers. But it's certainly not going to go unnoticed if you're under one of those fingers."

The FAA's website says the streamlined flight paths improve capacity and efficiency on runways, allowing more flights and reducing the amount of burned fuel and carbon emissions.

Before making the switch to satellites, airports in the United States were required to do noise studies on the areas in the immediate vicinity.

If the Yearly Day-Night Average Sound Level, or DNL, was above a certain level, the airport could apply for FAA funding to help with noise mitigation. But the FAA requires airports to conduct studies only in their immediate vicinity, and Charlotte/Douglas has complied with all federal regulations, said Bergen.

Last fall, members of Park Crossing, as well as other neighborhoods throughout Charlotte who've been affected by the new paths, started organizing. Park Crossing resident and attorney Will Terpening helped build the website www.fairaircharlottetoday.com. The site outlines the issues and offers suggestions for getting in touch with public officials.

Terpening also helped the group get a Facebook page, Fair Air Charlotte, and Twitter account, FairAirCLT.

Olinger - a recreational pilot - has written the mayor, city council member Andy Dulin and airport officials.

Terpening said Park Crossing isn't interested in taking the issue to a courtroom. They'd just like the airport to acknowledge their concerns and work toward a solution, Terpening said.

"We're not a bunch of witch hunters out here, (we're) not out to point any fingers," said Schneider. "We're trying to do this in a positive way. ... If we can get something done, all of our lives would be better."

In the least, the neighborhood would like for the planes to pass over at a higher altitude, which would decrease the noise in the area, Olinger said.

Gentry acknowledged that the new FAA-instituted flight paths have frustrated people who have not traditionally seen or heard airplanes around their home.

"They're changing air traffic as most communities know it," she said, "and this is something that's happening all over the country."

Jerry Orr, aviation director of Charlotte/Douglas - the seventh-largest airport in the nation in terms of aircraft operations - said he has been out to the Park Crossing area to better understand the problem.

He said airport, airline and FAA personnel are working to decide what's best.

"Air traffic at the level we operate (at) is something that's difficult to experiment with. You can't just run airplanes anywhere indiscriminately," said Orr. "It's going to take a lot of study and a lot of heads getting together to come up with a solution that best meets everybody's needs."

Orr said these are complex issues with no quick fixes.

"If you're buying a house, knowing how close you are to the airport, you have no room to complain, you know what you're doing; you're going in there with your eyes open," said Olinger.

But Park Crossing residents bought into a peaceful area, Schneider said.

"At the end of the day, you want to go home, relax with your loved ones," he said. "You want to sit outside and enjoy the property you worked so hard to earn. ... I think we need to partner with the city and the airport to try to effect some change.

"There's got to be a better way."

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