The attorneys for a group of Minneapolis and Richfield citizens who filed a complaint that the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) failed to limit or mitigate aircraft noise as promised in 1996 hope to proceed now that District Court Judge Stephen Aldrich has ruled against various motions to dismiss a similar case brought by cities around Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
According to the South Metro Airport Action Council, (SMAAC), changes in MSP operations in late 2003 reduced flight frequency over parts of the already insulated neighborhoods by increasing flights over uninsulated areas. These changes in flight paths resulted from increased hub (peak hour) use of MSP‚s main runways, supporting changes in ground movements, as well as air movements, related to simultaneous use of the main runways and new runway 17-35. SMAAC noted that additional gates at the Lindbergh Terminal came on-line and Northwest and affiliates changed over to smaller regional jets at that time, taking noise complaints in South Minneapolis to a relative high by mid summer 2004.
As operations continued in this mode through the late October opening of the new MSP runway, residents of Southwest Minneapolis and North Richfield reported that noise relief from operations being switched to the new runway was less than expected. However, MAC was inundated by complaints from neighborhoods under the new runway flight paths, particularly take-offs to the South quickly turning to the West. "Actual MSP flight paths are quite different than the projected paths used to "model" operations and map noise contours around MSP." said Jim Spensley, SMAAC‚s President. "The changes in take-off profiles were slipped past the Noise Oversight Committee after inputs to the model had already been approved. Our objections to the for-2007 noise exposure map as the basis for eligibility for the Sound Insulation Program are based on this and other modeling issues."
The lawsuits allege that at one point, MAC and FAA acknowledged the fallibility of the projections and operational plans used to draw noise contours and agreed to extend the sound insulation program the equivalent of 5 decibels, or between 1,800 and 3,000 feet. "In 1996, the cost of the noise mitigation needed if MSP were expanded was less of an issue," Spensley said "because it was going to be paid for by travelers, not MAC, not airlines. Increases from passenger fees, landing fees, gate leases and other use-related revenues were a given if one accepted the air travel demand projections."
SMAAC said that it is galling that media reports credit MAC and FAA for funding the $223 million completed sound insulation program. "Baloney! All of the funding came from passengers; and, all but $30 million came from local air travelers, many of whom live or work near MSP." Spensley retorts.