For several weeks, local officials had been telling residents to attend a series of meetings across the county with Federal Aviation Administration officials over the last month. They said proposed changes to airspace over north DeKalb County would increase noise and environmental pollution as air traffic soared closer to the ground.
Residents and aviators had their chance to face the FAA March 1. The FAA’s response?
Chill out. Nothing’s going to change much.
“Whatever you’re seeing today is probably what you’re going to see tomorrow,” said Jim Allerdice, an air traffic controller in Peachtree City.
A group of more than 40 people packed into the Chamblee Civic Center to question FAA officials about the intentions to lower the floor of Class B airspace over DeKalb Peachtree Airport from 8,000 feet above sea level to 5,000 feet. The change is meant to accommodate increased traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport since it opened a fifth runway in 2006.
Class B airspace outside Hartsfield essentially allows large volume air carrier flights to safely fly in and out of the airport without interference from smaller planes below that are not in direct communication with air traffic control. Many of those smaller flights fly out of DeKalb Peachtree.
A 2007 FAA study showed that increased Hartsfield traffic was spilling out of Class B airspace too frequently, so the FAA wants to lower the floor, giving big planes more space. Local politicians and homeowners discovered the proposal last month and encouraged residents to protest the change, fearing planes would fly closer to their homes, increasing noise and environmental pollution.
Several pilots of smaller planes said lowering the ceiling would force them to fly closer to the ground. Allerdice responded with a graphic of smaller plane traffic that showed only 1 percent of flights fly above 4,500 feet, still 500 feet below the proposed floor.
“The airplanes are just not flying in that airspace today even though they could,” he said.
A local pilot told the audience that pilots flying below Class B would likely fly closer to the ground to stay away from the Class B floor and avoid FAA fines.
“You’re going to compress them,” he said.
Allerdice asked the man to submit his comments in writing and the FAA would consider them as they revise their proposal.
Barbara Petrecca, a Dunwoody homeowner, was concerned the changes would affect the air over her home. After being told there would be no change, Petrecca, skeptical, said local residents simply needed to have faith that what Allerdice said was true.
“We have a lot to lose if your intuition is wrong,” she said. “You’re a good controller, and everyone speaks well, but there’s deep concern in the community.”
Leonard Harris, a business owner and pilot at DeKalb Peachtree demanded to speak at the end of the meeting, stood before the audience and shouted about safety.
“As a pilot, this scares me for the future!” he said.
After the meeting, Mike Richardson, an FAA official, reiterated that the change would have little effect on local residents.
“The new design is only to contain the current traffic patterns today,” he said.