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    TIA wants to quell noisy flight paths

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 4, 2002

    TAMPA -- For the nine years that Ellen and Ron Schon have lived in Beach Park Isles in South Tampa, big planes have been flying over so low that Ellen swears she can count the bolts in the fuselages.

    "It's a problem, absolutely," she said. "If you're having a conversation, you have to stop. If you're watching television, you miss the end. If you're on the phone, you have to tell them to hold on."

    It's an old battle for officials at Tampa International Airport, and one they're about to fight again. They are trying to crack down on airline pilots who request landing patterns that deviate from the airport's noise-control program and take jets low over South Tampa homes.

    TIA has two north-south runways, one on the west side of the terminal complex and one on the east side. Incoming jets landing to the north are supposed to use runway 36-Left, the strip to the west. This keeps the planes over water and away from homes.

    But pilots routinely ask air traffic controllers for permission to land on 36-Right, in a practice called "sidestepping." When it happens, airport executives' telephones start ringing with calls from irate residents.

    "We're seeing more and more of it happen," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. "The vast majority of the airplanes that sidestep to the runway on the east side are destined for airsides on the east side. They're messing up our noise control program to save one minute of taxi time."

    Airsides C and A are on the east side of the terminal, and the tenants include the two largest carriers at the airport, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines. Those airsides also are home to Continental and Northwest Airlines and Continental Express. Miller said violators come from all those airlines.

    Part of the problem will correct itself Oct. 15 when Delta moves its operations to the new Airside E, on the west side of the airport. But traditionally, Southwest pilots, who work for a company that thrives on fast turnarounds for its flights, have been the worst offenders.

    Brandy King, a spokeswoman for Southwest, said the airline was aware of the problem and had taken steps to correct it.

    "We were recently alerted to three instances in August, and we have counseled the pilots involved," King said. "In addition, all pilots flying into Tampa have received correspondence telling them they must comply with Tampa's noise abatement policy."

    Between January and August, airport officials were able to identify 82 flights that had been lined up correctly to land on runway 36L and then deviated to the right to land on 36R. But there actually were hundreds of violations.

    During May, June and July, when 7,192 jets landed at TIA, 371 of them took final approach paths to reach 36R that took them over private homes.

    "Some of those may have happened when 36L was closed, and some may have happened because there was a thunderstorm parked at the end of 36L," said Ken Reed, noise officer for the Aviation Authority. "But a lot were unnecessary, and we really have to keep them to a minimum."

    Air traffic controllers, who issue permissions for pilots to land, are powerless to stop the sidestepping practice because the captain of any flight is the final authority on what the aircraft will do.

    Pilots landing at any airport in the country are supposed to listen to the Air Traffic Information System, or ATIS, for the latest reports on weather, winds and runway conditions. ATIS at Tampa International Airport includes notification that jets should use runway 36L for noise abatement purposes.

    "When pilots ask for deviations to 36R, the controllers ask if they've listened to ATIS," Miller said. "If the pilots say they have, the controllers give them permission to use 36R. We would rather that controllers remind them that sidestepping is a deviation. We're working on it."

    And for all their complaints, residents of South Tampa give airport officials high marks for trying to improve the situation.

    "The airport, in my opinion, has gone out of its way to one, be sensitive to the problem, and two, repond positively to it," said Ron Schon, who serves on a citizens advisory council on airport noise. "It's not the airport's fault. They're doing everything they can."

    Beach Park resident Margaret Vizzi agrees. She blames pilots who fly over her neighborhood for no reason other than to save a few seconds.

    "There's a red eye from Los Angeles that flies over sometimes at 6 a.m.," said Vizzi, a 40-year resident. "I already have my hand on the phone to call and complain. But (the problem) surely has improved over the last few years. I think the airport's trying to be a good neighbor."

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