Lee County Port Authority officials are keenly aware of the aircraft issues over Estero Island since a 2008 airspace redesign to and from Southwest Florida International Airport negatively impacted residents, property owners and business owners. On Monday, they unanimously approved study recommendations and a resolution created by the Fort Myers Beach Town Council to solidify their position.
Vice Mayor Alan Mandel, members of the Beach community and Air Intrusion Relief (AIR), a committee comprised of Fort Myers Beach residents and property owners, provided statements to be officially logged at the hearing.
For years, Town officials and residents have combined efforts to decrease the number of aircraft flights over the densely populated island and its environmentally sensitive areas, increase the altitude of aircraft and implement noise abatement procedures when aircraft descend over the island. Late night and early morning flights have also been a concern.
"I want to thank certain members of the Port Authority who I have had conversations with over the last month or so," said Vice Mayor Alan Mandel. "They've incorporated the ideas that we've made with some modifications that the AIR committee did. This makes it more of a living document going into the future."
Mandel said the Port Authority now would formally present the resolution and study to the Federal Aviation Administration, which will have 180 days to review and respond.
"They will pursue the recommendations to the FAA. This should not move the noise problem from one community to another," said Mandel. "We're hoping they will fly the airplanes over where there are no people living. If they do have to cross the island, the goal is to have them fly above 3,000 feet."
Low flying aircraft over the Beach as well as other problems associated with the flight patterns has been an issue that has languished for years. The study has included 11 public workshops with 326 attendees and at least five individual community meetings.
"We do owe some thanks to former Mayor (Larry) Kiker. It was when he was mayor that Council requested that he work with the Port Authority," said Mandel. "I think you now see some of the fruits of that labor."
The Town resolution cites 67 to 80 percent of all arriving flights, depending on weather conditions, descend over the island on the airport's Runway 6. It requests threshold conditions be evaluated to determine if controllers can route more aircraft to land on another runway to fairly distribute the impact of over-flights among other communities.
AIR member Tom Babcock told Port Authority officials that there would be benefits for noise, safety and air quality if FAA and Florida Department of Transportation officials implemented the study recommendations.
"The previous 2006 Part 150 Study made several recommendations that still have not been fully implemented. As a result, aircraft noise became significantly worse for Fort Myers Beach when a new arrival route was established," he said. "There has been no relief in the four and a half years since the airspace redesign."
Babcock asked for a flight tracking system.
"It was recommended in 2006 and promised for over a year," he said. "It is important to measure whether progress is being made. Are aircraft above 3,000 feet over Estero Island? Are shorter arrival routes bypassing the island? Are disruptive night flights decreasing?"
Babcock also spoke about increasing glide scopes (as high as 3.2 rather than the standard 3.0), training and support of air traffic controllers and the use of optimum descent approaches.
"The advantages for noise, cost and efficiency will not be fully realized until all aircraft have RNAV (Area navigation) equipment. This is an implementation issue," he said.
Babcock also stated Southwest Florida International Airport is projected to increase its usage by 20 percent by 2017. A yet-to-be-built second runway, originally planned for 2012, will not be in place by 2017 to spread the load.
"Fort Myers Beach will become a busier railroad track. By 2030, there is a projected 77 percent increase in air traffic at RSW. Many will be arriving after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m. Although the second runway will be in place, projections in this Study indicate that the runway will be under utilized," he said. "For example, 57 percent of the aircraft flying over Fort Myers Beach are expected to arrive on the southern route, but only 31 percent are projected to land on the preferred new south runway. This leaves 69 percent of the aircraft landing on the existing runway.
"Fort Myers Beach is concerned it will see no relief from the railroad track. The Part 150 Report explains under utilization of the new runway is due to the longer taxi distance to the terminal. These issues must be addressed in advance of making the new runway operational."