By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HEBRON - If new nighttime takeoff and landing procedures are made permanent at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the airport could have to buy more houses.
A 92 percent growth in overnight air traffic is the reason for the new procedures, which are currently being tested.
The airport has spent $132.5 million since 1990 to buy, soundproof or provide purchase assistance for 1,108 homes.
An initial study by the airport examined the impact of a test of new nighttime procedures conducted from January through March by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The study showed that the noisiest areas around the airport expanded to the north and south and contracted from the west under the new procedures.
The result: 28 houses are in the area that would require buyouts or soundproofing in Northern Kentucky, primarily along River Road to the north and Ky. 18 to the south.
The FAA conducted a second, 90-day test this year. Yet another 60-day test is due to be completed in mid-October.
Many residents to the north into western Hamilton County in Ohio and to the south in Boone County have noticed a difference in noise since the tests began. The airport reports a rise in calls to its complaint line during the period.
Ken Ralenkotter of Union says daytime noise has gotten better with planes following designated flight paths along Interstate 75 more closely.
But he says it has gotten louder at night.
"I've noticed in the last month that I'll be laying in bed at 3-4 a.m. and all of a sudden, I'll hear this big blast that I've never heard before," Ralenkotter said. "And I can tell that they are using the south runway when they hadn't before, and these are the freighters that are older and louder.
"That's not a good combination for a good night's sleep."
The tests do two main things:
Move from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. the "curfew" when certain procedures are required to begin.
Change the order of preference for takeoff and landing directions. Under normal circumstances, planes take off to the west toward less-populated areas of western Boone County, since the west runway is the first priority late at night. But the new tests allow the use of the two north-south runways more often.
The original procedures were created primarily because of a 1991 legal agreement signed between the airport and two parties (Delhi Township and the Sisters of Charity) just before the airport's newest runway opened. The deal calls for the airport to limit noise in Delhi Township.
But air traffic controllers are having problems coping with the 92 percent increase in flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. at the airport in the last four years.
In addition, about 30 Comair flights arrive or depart between 10 and 11 p.m., and the FAA has cited that as one reason for delaying the start of the curfew. In addition, the first batch of incoming late-night freight flights, primarily for DHL Worldwide Express, starts about midnight. DHL has about 48 departures each night locally.
DHL runs its main domestic hub at the airport, where it recently built a new sorting facility. It could be looking to expand because of a merger with Airborne Express. In addition, smaller freight carriers and flights carrying checks between banks are using the airport more frequently.
Overall, the number of flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. has gone from 178 a day in 1999 to 343 this year, according to previously released FAA documents.
"We give a weight of 10 times a nighttime flight to a daytime flight when it comes to noise, so that's why we're seeing this," said Barb Schempf, the airport's noise mitigation and government relations manager. "But these are very preliminary, and we're not even sure if they are completely accurate."
That's because the airport's test, originally scheduled for 60 days, was extended another 30 days when bad weather caused some runways to be shut down during the test period.
FAA officials declined comment on the tests. They also would not say how long the tests would continue or if the changes in procedures would become permanent.
Airport and FAA officials have previously said they expect them to continue into at least early 2004. A final decision on which new procedures would be used, if any, has yet to be made. That means it's unclear how many more houses would have to be bought or soundproofed.
The airport is planning to redo its permanent noise study beginning next month, which could mean the areas that would be eligible for sound mitigation would expand.
In presentations to area political leaders earlier this year, FAA officials said they were having problems avoiding delays while maintaining safety requirements due to the traffic growth.
The airport study says air traffic controllers were able to land 34 planes an hour during the first three months of the year, compared with 28 normally.
But Linda Huesman of Green Township, who lives far from where buyouts would be necessary, says she doesn't care about efficiency. She wants to be able to settle in for the night at a decent hour.
"It is getting very noisy about 1 a.m.," she said . "It has definitely been noisier later this year compared with last year. But it doesn't do any good to complain. They're going to do whatever they want to do, and go back on whatever they had said previously."
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