Pinellas airport urges new flight paths

Published May 14, 2007

Sweet silence may be in store for residents of Safety Harbor and Del Oro Groves who for years have endured troubled sleep as aircraft made night landings at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

The airport is asking the Federal Aviation Administration to approve a new northern flight path that will allow planes to approach over Old Tampa Bay rather than Safety Harbor and Del Oro Groves, which is in far eastern Clearwater.

"The biggest relief it will provide them is during the nighttime hours, " said Thomas Jewsbury, the airport's deputy director. "At this time at night, they are experiencing aircraft flying right over their communities."

It may take the FAA as long as 12 to 24 months to review the proposal, which would be voluntary, meaning pilots would not be required to fly the new, low-noise, approach.

Jewsbury said the airport would be contacting carriers to notify them of the new preferred approach and urging them to use it.

Under the proposal, planes would now fly over Oldsmar while approaching the airport and before heading out over water. But because Oldsmar is farther north, planes would be higher when heading over the town, thus reducing noise impacts, Jewsbury said.

Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold said noise pollution from the flights overhead had been a problem for years, sometimes making it difficult for those watching television at night to hear what was being said.

The airport is making its application to the FAA after the Pinellas County Commission endorsed the move earlier this month. Steingold, who owns a home impacted by the current flight path, said he was glad the commission had finally acted.

"It's a big step by the County Commission to protect the quality of life of people who live in the northern part of the county, " he said. "We are thankful, and look forward to the FAA's approval of this new flight path plan."

Clearwater officials, too, are glad the request for a new approach is finally off the ground.

"I think it's great the airport is looking at ways to decrease the impact to our residents, " said Clearwater spokeswoman Joelle Castelli. "The residents and the airport have been trying to find a compromise for a while."

Times staff writer Mike Donila contributed to this report. Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 727 445-4166.

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The FAA could take as long as 24 months to review the plan, which would be voluntary, meaning pilots would not be required to fly the new, low-noise approach. See the plan, Page 8.