Residents made noise, and regulators heard it. Now Lake Wylie and Steele Creek could get less noise overhead.
The Federal Aviation Administration is taking public comment through Jan. 5 on a modernization plan that should change the way flights take off and land. The plan includes 11 airports and surrounding air space in three states, the largest in Charlotte.
Similar plans are being made or just completed in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Texas, California and Florida. The Charlotte study area, or metroplex, includes airports from Greenville-Spartanburg area and Greensboro, N.C. The Bryant Field airport in Rock Hill is included.
Changes only would impact flights to or from metroplex airports, not flights that only pass overhead.
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“There’s a couple of different winners,” said Bob Szymkiewicz, a 26-year veteran of the Charlotte air control tower and leader behind the new study. “The families that live in the Lake Wylie area, they should see some relief.”
The changes will update flight control from a ground-based, tower heavy system to a more satellite and GPS reliant one. Some of the zigzag will be taken out of flights that now get passed tower to tower, and pilots will have better automation on board. The changes will better automate takeoff and landing patterns, too.
Planes now stair step as they descend, creating noise in areas near but not right beside an airport. The changes should allow flights to come in at steeper angles without stair stepping, meaning they’ll maintain higher altitudes in areas like Lake Wylie.
“That allows flights to fly in a more direct path,” said Kathleen Bergen, FAA communications manager. “Then they would use less fuel and make less noise.”
The changes wouldn’t mean the end of towers. It should mean better technology for the people in them.
“It’s still going to be maintained there,” Bergen said. “There will still be people on the ground. It’s an evolution toward a new way of managing air traffic.
Kristi Ashley, who headed up the environmental assessment behind the new plan, said carbon consumption and fuel emissions will be reduced. No elevation in the 3,000 to 18,000 foot range maintained by the FAA showed noise increases with the change.
“No noise increase whatsoever,” Ashley said.
Experts say they have heard from Steele Creek and Lake Wylie residents concerned about airport noise as it grows and serves more flights. The topic was of high concern at the most recent Steele Creek Residents Association meeting, and public hearings by Charlotte airport officials were held the first week of December on noise maps for their control area, at or below 3,000 feet of elevation.
Changes from the airport and FAA could mean a dispersing of flight patterns, meaning the same neighborhoods in a runway path wouldn’t see such consistent traffic. Airlines and air traffic controllers are working with regulators on the changes.
The study began in 2011 and changes will be implemented through 2017. Regulators estimated in early 2012 that 2.5 million fewer nautical miles would be flown into and out of Charlotte annually due to the changes, saving 3.7 million gallons of fuel and cutting carbon emissions by 35,000 metric tons.
“The end result for travelers will be fewer delays, quicker flights and an even safer, greener flying experience,” Michael Huerta, acting FAA administrator, said at the time.
Szymkiewicz believes the changes will benefit airlines, pilots, consumers and people on the ground once complete.
“It takes the technology that exists today, and it lets the planes use it,” he said.