A federal aviation official on Tuesday contradicted statements by the director of the Portland International Jetport and other officials at the airport that problems with a federal radar system could have contributed to noise complaints by forcing airliners to fly over residential neighborhoods.

There have been no radar outages that changed the direction in which airplanes took off and landed at the Portland airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said Tuesday.

While the FAA’s nearest air traffic radar, in Cumberland, shut down this summer for scheduled maintenance and experienced several unplanned interruptions, the Jetport was covered by three other radar sites and there was no effect on airport operations, Peters said.

“It’s not complicated, it really isn’t,” Peters said. “When we schedule an outage for maintenance or troubleshooting, that has nothing to do with flight procedures or flight patterns at the airport.”

Citing radar malfunctions as a reason for changing flight direction doesn’t make sense, Peters said, explaining that flight patterns and procedures are determined by factors like runway availability, wind direction and weather, but not radar.

“Radar doesn’t determine the runway or the direction we bring aircraft in,” he said.


South Portland residents have been told that federal radar problems were the reason for an apparent increase in loud, low-flying aircraft over their neighborhoods. Jetport officials and a South Portland resident who serves on a noise advisory panel had said radar issues appeared to be at least partly responsible for the recent noise complaints. The officials also incorrectly said the radar station experiencing the problems was at the National Weather Service station in Gray. It is in Cumberland, the FAA said.

On Monday, Jetport Director Paul Bradbury told the Portland Press Herald that there were nine radar outages from March to September that required arriving and departing commercial flights to pass over densely populated neighborhoods east of the airport. Bradbury said flights typically come into the airport over an area to the west that is less populated.

In an interview Tuesday, Bradbury said although it appeared that radar outages could have been part of the problem, in they end they were not.

“I think they have already answered the question, according to their research and their data, this did not cause an impact,” Bradbury said Tuesday. “They’re the FAA, I think they’ve got it.”

Radar problems had been highlighted as a possible cause for noise complaints in a September email to members of the noise advisory committee from Jetport Operations Manager Brad Wallace.

“When this radar goes off-line, the (flight path over Portland Harbor) is no longer available and traffic arriving or departing to the east will fly over land,” Wallace wrote.


The Jetport is covered by radar sites in Cumberland, Skowhegan, Manchester, New Hampshire and North Truro, Massachusetts, the FAA said. The redundant capability ensures air traffic controllers “can provide continuous radar coverage for safe air traffic operations at all times,” the FAA said. It does not use any radar feeds from the National Weather Service in Gray.

Air traffic controllers used alternate feeds for the Jetport during scheduled maintenance of the Cumberland radar site this summer. One of the Cumberland station’s two operating channels experienced several interruptions after normal business hours this summer, but a technician switched the system to the other channel with no impact on air traffic operations, the FAA said.

Air traffic controllers and airport staff don’t use radar to determine flight patterns, Peters said in an interview Tuesday.

“Radar in and of itself doesn’t determine what runways, flight patterns or procedures we use, it is a tool we have,” he said.

The airport determines what runways can be used and air traffic controllers determine the best landing and take off directions based on a number of factors, wind direction being the most important, he said.

On Tuesday, Bradbury said advisory committee members were advised of the radar outages only for information. “This was one ancillary input we wanted to make sure the noise advisory committee had,” he said. “These are technical matters, I don’t have all the answers, I am just trying to get all the information to the committee.”


Adrian Dowling, a candidate for South Portland City Council South Portland and a member of the airport’s Noise Advisory Committee, would like to get some answers on why noise complaints appear to have increased.

“People in South Portland want to know what this is all about and what is happening. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good answers for them,” Dowling said Tuesday night. Based on the number of complaints he has been receiving, he said the noise problem is a real issue.

Bradbury said the Jetport has not yet compiled all the noise complaints for the past year so it is not possible to tell if there have been more complaints.

“I can’t even verify for sure analytically that the number of complaints are higher than last year,” he said.

Complaints could have been generated by work at the airport itself. In April, the Jetport warned there would be more noise for people in Portland, South Portland, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth for a short time because of a taxiway repair project.

The airport also had more daytime runways closures this summer because of a new mowing schedule, maintenance and runway lighting repairs Wallace said in the same email that mentioned radar outages. The closures were timed to avoid aircraft arrivals and departures but “it does seem likely that they could have contributed to some changes in the noise patterns, even if briefly,” Wallace wrote.

Peter McGuire can be reached at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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