A series of intermittent radar outages that began in March and continued at least through September necessitated a change in flight patterns at Portland International Jetport that has generated complaints from residents about noise from commercial flights soaring over their homes.

Residents of some South Portland neighborhoods have been affected by louder-than-usual aircraft noise over the last several months because the loss of the Federal Aviation Administration radar in Gray forces commercial flights to depart using the harbor route, airport officials said, taking the jets east over South Portland and several densely populated neighborhoods, including Knightville, Meeting House Hill and Willard Beach.

Adrian Dowling, a South Portland resident who is a candidate for City Council and a member of the airport’s Noise Advisory Committee, said the noise is the worst it’s been in the five or so years he’s been on the panel.

“I’ve received quite a few calls and emails from residents asking what’s going on,” he said. “I’m trying to figure it out.”

The recent problems are linked to outages of the approach surveillance radar, which is supplied to the air traffic control tower by the FAA radar station located in Gray. The radar outage in Gray does not affect a pilot’s ability to land or take off, Dowling said.

Airport Director Paul Bradbury said Monday evening that there have been at least nine radar outages reported by air traffic controllers since the first one occurred in late March. The outages occurred on March 30, May 3 and 8, June 20 and 22, July 12, and Aug. 17, 26 and 28. Bradbury said there could have been more occurrences in September.

Bradbury said the outages pose no hazard to the public because there is a backup radar system based in Nashua, New Hampshire.

He said he does not have detailed information about how long the outages lasted, what time they happened, or why they occurred since the radar equipment is owned by the federal government. But he was told that the Aug. 28 outage lasted more than seven hours. Another outage may have lasted a full day, another airport official said.

“I’m not sure how long most of the outages lasted. It could have been a minute, an hour or 10 hours. I just don’t know,” Bradbury said.

Jim Peters, the FAA spokesman for Maine, could not be reached Monday night to explain what has caused the outages.

Bradbury said the jetport’s radar equipment was relocated to Gray more than a decade ago after a hotel built near the jetport interfered with the radar’s performance.

When a radar outage affecting the jetport occurs, commercial flights are not permitted under FAA rules to depart to the west. Bradbury said the western departure route is the preferred because planes fly over less densely populated areas. The western route takes planes over rural areas and businesses located in Westbrook and South Portland.

“In a perfect world, we’d have all planes taking off to the west,” he said.

When a radar outage occurs, commercial flights must depart over the more populated harbor route.

In a Sept. 18 email to Dowling and other members of the Noise Advisory Committee, airport operations manager Brad Wallace said the approach surveillance radar was down for several days between May and August. He added that there may have been more days in September. Wallace said a taxiway repair project in the spring also contributed to the changing flight patterns,

Wallace also sent an email last week letting committee members know that the radar was once again out of commission.

Dowling said even though the radar outages date back several months, he only found out about them in September.

“My understanding is that this was all supposed to be resolved by now though,” he said.

The Noise Advisory Committee next meets at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the jetport.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]


Correction: This story was revised at 11:50 a.m., Oct. 17, 2017, to remove references to the National Weather Service property in Gray.