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Freeholders Demand Explanation On Whether New Air Routes Are Being Followed By Jetliners


Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times

Union County Freeholder Chairwoman Linda Stender last week instructed county officials to set up a meeting with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to investigate recent allegations that air traffic routes under the Solberg Mitigation Plan are not being followed. The Solberg Plan was created by the FAA to provide noise relief in the county.

The charges were made at last week’s Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting by Jerome Feder of Westfield, Chairman of the Union County Air Traffic and Noise Advisory Board. The new traffic routes were supposed to go into effect last spring. The routes were prescribed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement approved by the FAA as an amendment to the Expanded East Coast Plan (EECP) which went into effect back in 1987. The EECP was put into place to improve efficiency for flights and avoid departure delays at busy East Coast airports.

Freeholder Stender said FAA officials should have the right to come before the board to either explain why they are not following the new flight routes or, if the charges are inaccurate, set the county straight as to any discrepancies in the data. Freeholder Stender said members of Congress will be invited to attend the meeting, as well.

The Solberg Plan was the result of the $6.5 million environmental study which was ordered by Congress as part of the Air Safety Capacity Expansion Act of 1990. The study took 5 1/2 years to complete.

Under Solberg, flights from Newark Airport are supposed to proceed south of the airport for 9.5 miles before making a westerly turn toward the Solberg Navigational Aid in Hunterdon County, according to representatives of the Scotch Plains-based New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise (NJCAAN).

Mr. Feder told the Freeholders that those areas of western Union County which were supposed to see a reduction in jetliner noise from takeoffs from Newark International Airport are actually witnessing an increase in noise.

The Solberg Plan was intended to provide relief for some 18,000 residents, mostly in the Scotch Plains and Fanwood area. He said this plan, if actually implemented, "in general would be very beneficial for Union County." Instead, he said jetliners are now flying towards the heart of the county.

The Freeholders were shown what Mr. Feder described as data indicating flight patterns for aircraft taking off from Newark Airport on August 21 of last year. The data, reflecting six hours of flight patterns, was supplied by the FAA. The data was taken by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which operates Newark, Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports.

Map of Flight patterns, click here

An FAA spokesman told The Star-Ledger that the data includes all aircraft including small planes which do not fall under the Solberg directive. He said commercial airlines are following the new flight patterns, although, due to some changes such as weather, jetliners are permitted to deviate as much as a mile off the routes which he termed as simply rough guidelines.

Mr. Feder said the August 21 flight patterns are "a fair portrayal of what they (the aircraft) do."

Freeholder Donald Goncalves told the board that a friend of his who is employed as a pilot for a major airliner has indicated pilots are not following the Solberg flight paths.

Under questioning from board members, Mr. Feder said he has attempted to get additional data from the FAA to see the pattern of flight paths over several consecutive days. That information, however, has been withheld by the FAA officials who have cited ongoing litigation with the City of Elizabeth.

The city initiated the lawsuit opposing the 2.3-mile turn for departing flights away from Staten Island. The borough had complained to the FAA about the increase in air traffic noise from Newark Airport.

Barbara Krause, of Cranford, a member of the Noise Advisory Committee, said a Port Authority official told a member of the Cranford Air Noise Committee that aircraft were not following the routes prescribed in the Solberg Plan. She said, in a straw poll of members of the county committee, Kenilworth has been "extremely adversely affected" by the increase in air traffic noise. She said noise increases also were observed in Roselle and Roselle Park, Cranford and Union.

"It was just detrimental overall," she said.

The NJCAAN has been pushing for the FAA to go with what they have proposed as the Ocean Routing Alternative. Mr. Feder said the airline industry has opposed this change by stating it would increase fuel cost and create longer routes for the airlines.

Freeholder Edwin H. Force recommended that FAA officials be asked to supply data for departing flights for seven consecutive days, Sunday through Saturday, over the course of two months. He said the board should pick the dates to insure that the data is an accurate depiction of the flight paths pilots are following.

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