South Portland residents tired of airliners flying over their homes are pushing the Federal Aviation Administration to improve landing routes into the Portland International Jetport.

Last year, the jetport logged more than 1,400 noise complaints – three times as many as in 2016 – mainly from residents of South Portland’s residential neighborhoods of Willard Beach and Loveitts Field. The complaints came from 181 individuals, more than twice the year before.

Fed-up residents want FAA officials to approve new navigation channels so more airplanes can approach their landings from the northeast over Casco Bay and the Fore River, in what is called the “harbor visual approach,” instead of coming in from the east over their homes.

Flight noise is “substantially worse now than 23 years ago when I moved into the neighborhood,” said David Wakelin, who lives on Bay Road.

Fewer planes overall use the jetport than 20 years ago, but the ones that do are larger, and land at night and take off early in the morning. Most of the complaints are focused on landings, which are noisier and last longer than takeoffs.

Ideally, flights land and take off west of the jetport, but depending on wind direction, they sometimes have to come in from the east.

The flight path over the South Portland neighborhood also saves time and fuel, Wakelin said, compared with the harbor visual approach over Casco Bay and the Fore River, which is currently used only in daylight and good weather. Though the control tower guides the planes into and out of the airport, the pilot is ultimately responsible for choosing the flight path that is best-suited for the conditions.

On a hot, sunny afternoon this week, Wakelin watched six planes, one after another descend over his house instead of the harbor.

“There was plenty of visibility, I don’t have any idea why they would decide to send a whole fleet,” Wakelin said. “On beautiful days there is no reason for them to fly over these neighborhoods.”

FAA PROPOSAL

Wakelin is the chairman of a jetport noise subcommittee that asked FAA to adopt a new approach system called required navigation performance that uses satellite positioning technology to guide planes and would make it easier for airliners coming into Portland to use the harbor approach.

The system is used at the Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon, and at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. The group’s proposal to the FAA was modeled off the approach used at the Oregon airport.

“There is something we can do about it,” Wakelin said. “They have the technology now, we simply have to get them to put it into place.”

But the FAA does not think required navigation performance is the right fit for the jetport.

In a briefing to a South Portland public meeting in June, FAA officials said that implementing the system wouldn’t make a difference because almost none of the planes that fly into Portland have the equipment to use the system.

Furthermore, to mimic the harbor visual approach would require safety waivers from the administration’s flight standards division, officials said.

Instead, the FAA wants to pursue adding navigation waypoints to the harbor approach so planes can use it more easily. The flight path would still carry aircraft over South Portland, but it might reduce noise over dense residential areas, officials said.

In response to an email asking whether the FAA would reconsider its stance on required navigation performance at the jetport, and what other measures it was considering to reduce noise, a spokesperson said the agency will continue to work with the jetport and its Noise Advisory Committee to address their concerns..

The FAA has be unable to answer if adding waypoints would allow flights to use the harbor approach at night, Airport Director Paul Bradbury said.

He wants the FAA to take another look at the required navigation system. An analysis of the jets that service the airport and conversations with airlines led jetport officials to estimate that 21 percent of commercial flights could use the technology, much higher than the FAA’s figure.

By the time Portland got a new system, an even higher proportion of airlines’ fleets could use it, Bradbury said.

“Once a procedure is available, that number will only be higher,” he said. “The reality is it will not be tomorrow, it will be a year from now at best, probably two.”

REQUESTS FOR HELP

Portland’s airport has been breaking passenger records for the last three years, with more than 2 million people passing through the terminal in 2018.

But the number of flights last year, about 56,000, was less than half of the jetport’s peak of 128,000 two decades ago, Bradbury said. He suspects the surge in complaints may be tied to new residents moving into the area who are unaccustomed to airplane noise.

South Portland residents aren’t satisfied with the waypoint solution proposed by the FAA and have lobbied Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to take the matter up in Washington.

“The situation has gotten worse and worse and we need to do something because this is not an acceptable way to live,” said Laurie Kahn, a resident of Birch Street. She said she deals with airplanes flying over her house every day.

Collins chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday in which she pressed a top FAA official to work with the jetport to implement a required navigation approach as quickly as possible.

“I am hearing a lot of complaints from my constituents in South Portland about increased noise from aircraft landing above their homes at night, often just 600 to 1,000 feet above their homes,” Collins said.

Carl Burleson, the FAA’s acting deputy director, said he was “glad to make that commitment” to deal with aircraft noise.

“We recognize aircraft noise can be a considerable problem with local communities,” Burleson said. “We are certainly taking a lot of steps nationally – increased technology, insertion into the fleets, better community roundtables – trying to take advantage of Next Gen technologies to reduce noise.”

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