By Ernest Linneman
Chairman, Naples Airport Authority
Individuals who are recent arrivals to Old Naples and Fifth Avenue South are lobbying to force changes in Naples Municipal Airport departure routes. While the City of Naples Airport Authority welcomes new ideas and opinions, their factual errors need to be corrected.
As background, the southwest departure route from the airport’s main runway was set along Fifth Avenue 15 years ago with the support of the City Council and the County Commission, both of which changed their respective zoning to reflect the flight paths and noise-sensitive areas. The City’s zoning identifies residential uses as more sensitive to noise than commercial and visitor-related activities. Research showed fewer residents are impacted along the Fifth Avenue commercial route than having aircraft fly along Naples Bay. Several subsequent studies have resulted in the same finding: the Naples Bay path would expose more residents to noise than the turn down Fifth Avenue, a path that gets planes over the Gulf of Mexico as quickly as possible, minimizing noise duration.
We are repeatedly accused of quashing a 2010 study and refusing to include nonresidents in population counts. The fact is the study was being done to establish the need for additional FAA mandates to reduce noise, and the FAA not the Airport Authority specifies exactly those to be counted. The Noise Compatibility Committee and Airport Commissioners voted to halt the study for two reasons: 1) aircraft operations declined as the study was under way, resulting in less noise and jeopardizing the existing FAA-approved programs already established based on 2000-2005 noise contours, and 2) the study work completed at termination confirmed that our existing noise abatement measures continued to be the most effective at minimizing noise exposure over the most significantly affected residents and land uses. Based on that result, the NCC and the Board directed our staff to focus on maximizing the effectiveness of those measures.
These individuals, to further their personal objectives, choose to repeatedly question the technical work in airport studies. We stand behind our research and data. Our studies made possible an innovative ban on noisy Stage 1 and Stage 2 jet aircraft operations, and helped convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn the FAA’s decision against one of those bans in 2005.
In addition to study results, common sense indicates that aircraft sound over a mixed-use, commercial area makes more sense than flying over residential areas. Fifth Avenue has prospered over the last 15 years; there can be no doubt about that. Visitors continue to enjoy everything Fifth Avenue has to offer.
Our airport is well run, with 18 consecutive perfect technical and safety inspections by the FAA, eight successive awards for excellence in financial management and reporting, Florida Department of Transportation recognition as general aviation airport of the year for 2012 and no debt. These distinctions bear mentioning as evidence of the commitment to excellence of our Board of Commissioners and our staff.
Consider the motives of these critics versus the motives of the Airport Authority. The Authority has nothing to gain by manipulating flight paths and works hard to do what is right for the community as a whole. Residents who moved into the departure route area since 1998 made an informed decision to do so. Should the Authority shift flights away from new residents to areas of a purely residential character? Should the Authority be responsive to individuals who clearly communicate they don’t care where airplanes fly as long as airplanes don’t fly near their houses? We think not.
Safety, sound and service continue to be our highest priorities. We recognize that aircraft noise is an issue, and we are committed to search for ways to lessen that noise. But moving flight paths to placate a vocal minority is simply wrong.