Concerns and complaints regarding low-flying planes still linger after Greater Orlando Aviation Authority officials spoke to Winter Park City Commissioners.
City Commissioner Greg Seidel could have sworn it sounded like the roar of a plane going down in flames.
“I was out Saturday working in my yard, and I actually thought a plane was crashing going from the east to the west,” Seidel said. “I went around and looked at the other side of the house cause it was so low — I thought it was coming down.”
Seidel is just one of many Winter Park residents waiting for a potential solution — if any — to loud airplanes flying over the city.
Officials from the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority gave a presentation to Winter Park City Commissioners on Monday, Aug. 27, in response to frequent complaints from residents about airplanes that seem to be flying lower than usual.
Central Florida is a major artery for commercial flights because it’s at the heart of where flights are allowed in the state, said CEO Phil Brown of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which oversees operation management at Orlando International Airport and Orlando Executive Airport. Military bases lining the east and west coasts of Florida — along with the Kennedy Space Center — all have thousands of feet of restricted airspace.
“What that means as a practical matter is that you have allowed commercial flights to come right down the middle of the peninsula,” Brown said. “They’re either going to Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or, in some instances, Tampa.”
Judith-Ann Jerrette, GOAA assistant director of operations and noise abatement officer, said Orlando International Airport is the busiest airport in the state, with more than 350,000 operations in the last 12 months.
“All of the air traffic has to be funneled not only from the Unites States but around the world down our narrow peninsula,” she said.
Jerrette told commissioners the Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for air traffic in the United States, including routes and altitudes. Pilots heading south to MCO must cross Orlando Executive Airport at either 2,200 feet or 2,400 feet depending on the approach.
“Winter Park residents are mostly impacted by south-flow arrivals,” Jerrette said. “From executive airport onwards, (pilots) have to steepen their descent, and the challenge is that aircraft today are designed to stay aloft.”
Jerrette said she has heard the complaints from Winter Park residents that planes seem to be flying lower, but a study of flights passing over Winter Park from January 2016 to July 2018 shows the averages altitudes only varied by about 50 feet, although there were some flights that flew lower since the final chart displayed averages, Jerrette said.
Although the altitudes may be consistent, the number of flights has increased. A year ago, MCO averaged 868 daily flights; today the airport sees more than 1,000 daily flights, said Jerrette, adding that flights also start earlier and go later into the night, sometimes taking off at 1 a.m.
“There’s a very narrow time of quiet,” Jerrette said.
The number of flights going directly over Winter Park may increase even further with the implementation of NextGen, a new air-traffic control system. NextGen has yet to arrive at Florida airports but is expected to be implemented by next year.
“Residents will often ask, ‘Can we impose curfews at MCO?’”Jerrette said. “We cannot. The restrictions on aircraft types and hours of operation fall entirely within the purview of the federal government.”
The presentation left commissioners with a major question: What now?
“What I’m hearing from you is not only can we not expect improvement, but it’s probably going to get worse with the implementation of NextGen at the airport,” City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said. “Is there an avenue that we should be aware of that we could pursue in an organized fashion so that we might actually be able to have some impact? You hate to tell people, ‘There’s no hope.’ I certainly don’t want to do that.”
Staff was instructed to work with the GOAA to obtain data regarding how many planes were flying outside the average altitudes.
“I don’t think the situation is hopeless,” Mayor Steve Leary said. “I appreciate that there’s going to be outreach to the community (with NextGen). ... We will certainly be there.”