Lake Wylie residents should hear less noise from nearby Charlotte Douglas International Airport, once a new plan to upgrade air traffic control is put in place.
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 – including Charlotte Douglas and the Rock Hill/York County Airport – and surrounding air space in three states.
The Charlotte study area also includes airports in the Greenville-Spartanburg area and Greensboro, N.C.
Changes only would impact flights to or from airports in the study, not flights that only pass overhead.
“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.”
Rock Hill officials said they do not expect aircraft noise levels at the city/county airport off Old York Road to be affected by the FAA plan.
The changes will update flight control from a ground-based, tower-heavy system to a more satellite- and GPS-reliant one. Some of the zig-zag 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 nearby areas 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 FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen. “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 “no noise increase whatsoever,” she said.
Experts say they have heard from Lake Wylie residents concerned about airport noise as it grows and serves more flights. The topic was of high concern at public hearings held by Charlotte airport officials the first week of December.
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 – which are slightly longer than standard 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,” acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta said at the time.
Szymkiewicz believes the changes will benefit airlines, pilots, consumers and people on the ground.
“It takes the technology that exists today and it lets the planes use it,” he said.