by Michael H. Levin
With flight delays occupying attention nationwide – hovering around 30% in August – President Bush introduced the incoming Federal Aviation Administration Administrator, Bobby Sturgell, who is taking over from Marion Blakey with the words that his administration would address the problem over excessive flight delays.  Transportation Secretary Mary Peters sent tremors by adding that  FAA could ask the airlines to formulate a plan to improve scheduling or face a scheduling reduction order, institute an increase in compensation for passengers who are involuntarily bumped from a flight, leveling increases upon airlines to pay more to fly during peak hours, or even introducing congestion pricing. These are astonishing words at the highest administrative level coming from those who determined that what Philadelphia needs more and longer runways, redesigned airspace and an expanded airport, which will reduce flight delays by, at most, a few minutes or even seconds.  Quite to the contrary, it is more likely to lead to increased flight delays by accomodating more aircraft and passengers using Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) as well as the other regional airports in the New York and New Jersey area.
 
The municipalities in Delaware County have not lined up in their opposition to the further “runaway” expansion of PHL into Delaware County despite ~ 40,000 unofficial online adverse responses to the impacts of such expansion and ranging from health, safety, noise, environmental, to economic and infrastructural costs to ground transportation not to mention the traffic itself.
 
At least one municipality, Tinicum, was receiving between $600K and $700K from Philadelphia, which owns and operates the airport (and collected $48 million in landing fees) but these payments ceased in May 2007.  In a test case, Tinicum passed an ordinance in June 2007 imposing landing fees and promptly filed suit for them against one – Frontier Airlines – for landing fees for planes that touch down on runways in Tinicum.  Needless to say, that Tinicum wouldn’t support legal action opposing extended runways or, for that matter, more flights landing on runways in Tinicum Township.              
 
Since 1998 Philadelphia contributed annually to Tinicum Township, the Interboro School District, and Delaware County. The amount of Philadelphia’s contribution(s) is not known. In view of the contribution(s) it is interesting to note that Delaware County’s opposition to airspace redesign came to a head on September 14, 2007 with a Petition to Review filed by Delaware County Council on behalf of  The County of Delaware vs. U.S. Department of Transportaton and FAA  followed in four days, on September 18, 2007 by a Request For Stay of Agency Order on their Record of Decision on September 5, 2007 affecting New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Metropolitan Area Airport Redesign. 
 
The basis for current legal action is: environmental impact, inadequte analysis of air quality, no cumulative impacts, failure to adequately analyze noise impacts, and fails to analyze impacts on the John Heinz Wildife Refuge.  All of this has been known for at least 4 years.
 
The Stay, referenced above, concludes with a conciliatory note urging FAA to sit down with Petitioners, Delaware County (Council) to resolve their differences concerning the PHL west runways (not the north-south runway 17-35, dangled in the fall of 2006, that would affect Haverford, Lower Merion, Lansdowne, Upper Darby, Yeadon, and other Delaware County municipalities.  No answer to the petition is expected until October 14 and the issues will probably not be resolved by Election Day, November 6, 2007 although an “October Surprise”is possible .  .  . although not probable . . . considering the political forces swirling in the area with hands out for megadollars in the balance and the introduction of Casino Gambling in Philadelphia, Philadelphia’s Convention Center, Philadelphia’s Tourism, and maybe hopes within Chester for a soccer stadium. Will the Petition be amended to include runway 17-35 to protect Haverford and a request for immediate injunctive relief?  That would truly be a surprise.

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