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FAA Trying To Address Charlotte Airport Noise Problems

Each green line represents a flight departure from the Charlotte airport in June 2011. A darker, thicker line indicates more

Relief may be within earshot for neighborhoods who've recently found themselves directly under the path of planes leaving Charlotte-Douglas Airport. New navigation technology implemented two years ago has concentrated the majority of airline departures over a handful of routes, sparking noise complaints from homeowners several miles away. WFAE's Julie Rose reports on new procedures the airport and FAA are using to try and tone things down. We're not talking about people who bought houses a few miles from the airport and should expect some noise from above. We're talking about people like Tom Johnson who lives in Park Crossing - about nine miles south of the airport. "That was one of the main reasons we chose that neighborhood - cause it was nice and quiet," says Johnson. "You know, formerly I'd lived less than two miles from the airport off of Tryon, so I was quite familiar with how loud the planes got." But soon after Johnson bought his quiet house in 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration implemented a new computerized system for planes taking off from the Charlotte Airport. Using GPS coordinates, hundreds of planes follow a precise departure path as they leave Charlotte, rather than each taking the many slightly different routes you get when human pilots are in control. Johnson's house happened to be right below one of those computerized flight tracks. It got so bad one late night a few months ago, he downloaded a decibel meter on his smart phone and put it on the window sill. "And it would actually peak up into the 60 or 70 decibels when a plane would go over, so I was sitting there trying to read a book and it seemed like every minute to every two minutes a plane would go over and it's just 'Boom!'" recalls Johnson. He complained to the city and FAA - as have many people who live beneath one of these computerized departure plane paths around Charlotte. They say they've had no relief. Some are threatening to sue. But Assistant Charlotte Aviation Director Jack Christine says things are getting better. Weather and air traffic permitting, pilots are now being allowed to take control back from the computer as they leave the Charlotte area. Christine says maps of Charlotte air traffic in the last month show a small shift toward more dispersed departures. "We're trying to get back to something similar to what we had a couple years ago where those aircraft are still flying in those same general directions, they're just spread out more like they used to be," says Christine. The FAA says it's collaborating with the airport and airline officials to "address noise concerns while ensuring the safest, most efficient aviation systems." Charlotte residents who live beneath these more efficient, computerized flight paths have learned those goals don't always coincide. Each green line represents a flight departure from the Charlotte airport. A darker, thicker line indicates more flights taking that path. Above are departures in June, 2011 and below are departures in May, 2012. Image courtesy Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.