Saturday, November 5, 2016

Cargo flights stir noise complaints

Each fall, large cargo planes full of car parts leave Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport bound for vehicle assembly lines around the country. And each fall, there are complaints about the resulting noise. This year, there was an increase in flights and what seemed to be a resulting increase in complaints on social media and to public officials.

The Daily News reached out to several people who have complained about the noise issue, but none responded for this article.

Airport Manager Rob Barnett acknowledged that the cargo flights increased this year, adding that "we're very sensitive to noise issues."

Barnett said the flights "are unscheduled, sporadic and incredibly expensive."

Several local car part makers each fall ship parts to car manufacturers, whose assembly lines are busy working to produce 2017 models. It is cheaper to ship the parts by rail or truck, so typically if the plane option is chosen "there's been a problem downstream in the production process," Barnett said.

The planes used range from MD-80s to DC-9s and 727s but are generally bigger – and louder – than most of the planes that typically use the airport.

Responding via email to questions about the noise complaints, Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson wrote that he had received a few this fall.

"We take every complaint seriously, then do our best to evaluate the problem and formulate the appropriate response." Wilkerson wrote. "I have spoken with the airport manager and forwarded him the information from those who have called. There may be influence or action a local government may take, but airport regulations are, for the most part, under the jurisdiction of the FAA."

The federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act, passed in 1990, gives the FAA authority over most local airport noise regulations.

The Bowling Green airport underwent an environmental analysis earlier this year that included a review of the noise impact. The airport as a result has taken noise abatement steps, Barnett said, such as requiring pilots to ascend as quickly as possible and not do turns until the planes reach a higher altitude, both of which reduce the noise level.

Barnett said having an airport that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and that can accommodate air freight is an important consideration when car part manufacturers locate here.

"That's the No. 2 or No. 3 question they have," he said.

Other communities have taken action in response to airport noise complaints. In 1995, officials in Long Beach, Calif., for example, set a sound threshold and banned takeoffs and landings between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. for that city's airport.

Local officials had also talked about trying curfews, but "if you start restricting the flights ... it shuts down assembly lines. Manufacturers don't like that at all," Barnett said.

According to the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce website, there are about 60 auto-related manufacturing plants in the region supporting more than 11,000 jobs.

"It would have an incredibly negative impact on those manufacturers" and thus on the local economy, Barnett said.


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