Sunday, January 4, 2015

North Belmont man decries increase in jet departures over his home: Charlotte/Douglas International Airport (KCLT), Charlotte, North Carolina

More than 10 years living in his home near Belmont Abbey College, David Morgan has grown accustomed to hearing a jet airplane every now and then.

But in the past two months, he swears there’s been a cacophonous change in the skies overhead. It’s distracted him during the day, he said, and caused him to lose sleep at night.

“What used to be an idyllic, quiet spot to live in has now turned into a nightmare,” he said.

Complaints about airplanes landing and departing from Charlotte Douglas International Airport have been nothing new, particularly as the metro region has grown in recent years. But the angst has largely originated from residents along Lake Wylie, Lake Norman and other areas to the immediate north and south of the airport’s three parallel runways.

Morgan suspects the stink raised by wealthy property owners in those areas has prompted a shifting of flight patterns. He fears many northbound departures are now being diverted over his Catawba Heights community.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees aircraft operations, says that’s not the case.

“There have been no changes to departure or arrival routes at Charlotte Douglas International Airport,” said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen when reached Tuesday.

Morgan said unless he’s hallucinating, the low-flying planes he’s seen ascending over his home belie that.

Look, up in the sky …

Morgan lives at the end of Forney Avenue, off Belmont-Mount Holly Road, about 5.5 miles away from Charlotte Douglas. In addition to living there for a decade, he’s worked from home for the last year. That’s made him an even better judge of how often large planes are taking off and passing overhead, he said.

A couple of months ago, Morgan said he would see one or two planes pass low above his home each day. Then, on Dec. 13, the flood gates opened up.

“After I woke up on Dec. 13, they started coming over that Saturday and Sunday nonstop,” he said. “I’ve never seen that in all my time there.”

Afterward, he said he observed bursts of planes taking off, four and five right after another. Sometimes the bursts would come every 30 minutes, and sometimes the intervals would last longer.

Over the course of one hour, 32 departures passed low over his house, he said.

“I was standing at the end of my driveway watching them,” he said.

Morgan began filing complaints through the airport’s website. He brought his concern to the attention of a couple of city leaders in Belmont and Mount Holly, and emailed state legislators, though no one has yet to vocally share his concern.

He has also mined the Internet for stories in recent years about residents north and south of the airport who complained about jet noise. He launched a petition on www.MoveOn.org, and even set up a Facebook page to draw attention to the perceived threat.

No recent changes?

The Federal Aviation Administration is currently considering a new strategy that could change the way flights take off and land in Charlotte.

Landing planes now “stair step” as they descend, which creates noise in areas near an airport, but not right beside it. The proposed changes should allow flights to come in at steeper angles without stair-stepping, meaning they would maintain higher altitudes in areas such as Lake Wylie, Bergen said.

But that doesn’t explain a recent increase in takeoffs over Catawba Heights.

Bergen advised checking with American Airlines about its flight scheduling, “especially during the holiday season." But American Airlines spokeswoman Katie Cody said they had extra flights due to more customers only three days in December, and none as early as Dec. 17. And that wouldn't affect where planes go when they take off, she said.

"Whether the flights go north or south is dependent on the wind, but the routes haven't changed," Cody said.

Charlotte Douglas spokeswoman Haley Gentry said they don’t control where planes go when they’re in the air. The FAA does.

“In general, (Morgan’s) concerns are not anything that we have control over,” she said.

‘I don’t believe those numbers’

Gentry’s office mailed Morgan a letter in response to his complaints last month. It states that when planes depart the airport to the north, they typically don’t turn northwest until they are north of Morgan’s home, and fly no lower than 5,000 feet above areas other than the airport.

Out of 1,582 total flights at the Charlotte airport on Dec. 13, only 19 passed within a mile of Morgan’s home, wrote Kevin Hennessey, the airport’s community programs manager. That’s less than the 30 that passed within a mile of his home Dec. 13, 2013, he wrote.

“Although the city of Charlotte owns and operates the airport, it has no say in which or how many aircraft use the airport or how they operate in the air,” Hennessey said. “Aircraft operations are under the sole control of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Morgan said the dozens of planes he’s seen passing overhead refute that.

“I don’t believe those numbers,” he said. “He was trying to justify that nothing’s changed. And that’s insane.” 

Story and photo:  http://www.gastongazette.com

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