TIA acts to quiet din from its skies
By JEAN HELLER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001
TAMPA -- Amid escalating noise complaints from neighbors, Tampa International Airport officials moved Thursday to force errant aircraft to fly paths that minimize their intrusion on residential areas.
The board of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority voted to install a flight information monitoring system that will identify specific flights that deviate from the airport's FAA-approved noise-abatement program. Once offenders are identified, airport officials will take their case to the airlines.
The system should be up and running by July.
"Complaints have been rising every year, and they are legitimate," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Aviation Authority. "We're taking steps to deal with them."
In the first six months of 1998, the airport received 27 noise complaints. That rose to 75 in the first six months of 1999 and 91 in the first six months of 2000.
"That might not seem a lot, given that we have 600 takeoffs and landings here every day, but that's also just the people who called," Miller said. "How many more were there who were bothered but didn't call?"
TIA staff will open negotiations with the top bidder, BAE Systems of Austin, Texas, immediately. BAE's price for the monitoring system was nearly $510,000, with annual support and warranty cost of from $53,000 to $61,000.
"I don't know why that annual cost is so high," Miller said. "When we get into negotiations, we will find out what it's based on and see if we can't bring all the numbers down."
One resident of South Tampa said she was pleased by the effort to reduce noise.
"The problem has been getting worse and worse," said Margaret Vizzi, a resident of Beach Park and an activist in the Beach Park homeowners association. "I'm not the only one affected. It also causes problems for people south and east of me. If you're outside when they go over, you think they're going to take your head off.
"I'm sure the new equipment will do some good, and I'm happy it's going to happen."
Miller said he expected that airlines would cooperate to solve the noise problems.
Last March, after the St. Petersburg Times disclosed that Southwest Airlines crews were shifting their landing patterns and creating unacceptable noise levels over nearby neighborhoods, Southwest's chief pilot ordered his pilots, in writing, to cut it out. Miller said those violations almost never occur anymore.
TIA tries to avoid landing big jets on runway 36R, which is on the east side of the airport, because the approach takes the aircraft over the rooftops of South Tampa. Instead, the jets are brought in on runway 36L, on the west side, where the approach is mostly over water.
But Southwest pilots were "sidestepping" at the last minute, shifting from 36L to 36R because that is the side of the airport where the Southwest gates are located.
"Southwest acted to stop the practice as soon as they learned about it," Miller said. "I expect it will be the same with the problems we have now."
Those include approaches to landings on runway 36L and takeoffs from 36R.
Aircraft that enter from the north and east are supposed to stay east of the field and fly south until they are over the water beyond MacDill Air Force Base. Then they turn back north to land on 36L, an approach that keeps them mostly over water.
"But some of them cut the southbound leg short and make the turn to 36L somewhere over Bay-to-Bay (Boulevard), and that brings them in over houses," Miller said.
Aircraft taking off from 36R are supposed to maintain their northbound heading until they climb to 3,000 feet. If they turn to the right lower than that, they disrupt areas of Carrollwood.
"There is nothing we can do to stop the noise in Carrollwood or South Tampa," Miller said. "But we can bring these planes into compliance with noise regulations."
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