PHL-CAW
12/15/2004
  Airport's idea to extend runway falls way short --
- Not being factored: Cost, possible dangers, and the environmental impact. Mon, Dec. 13, 2004 By Michael H. Levin

It seems simple: Extend an existing north-south runway at Philadelphia International Airport by up to 1,500 feet and save from 10 to 19 minutes on each flight. The new runway also would have room for wide-body, long-distance jets to taxi; few use the runway now because it is too short.

These changes being studied by the Federal Aviation Administration at the airport's request, would come, however, at a cost far higher than the estimated $38 million to $56 million price tag for environmental impact studies and construction. They would negatively affect the lives of tens of thousands of the region's residents - particularly those in Delaware County - who are living along the flight path.

Worst of all, the delays might be reduced by only a minute or two, according to the FAA. Instead of extending a runway, the project actually would be a major expansion of arriving and departing flights.

If Runway 17-35, as it is known, is extended, these things could result:

Increased noise and structure-cracking vibrations.

Greater use of the airport by low-flying aircraft.

Additional air pollution from jet-fuel exhaust and fuel additives.

More smog and acid rain polluting streams, creeks and ground water.

Decreases in property value as homes and businesses along the flight path become less habitable and desirable.

All of these things could harm people and the environment in our area, worsening illnesses such as asthma, heart disease and cancer, and diminishing the quality of life.

An extended runway's impact on air safety also must be assessed. There would be a dense web of arriving and departing flights over Philadelphia, its suburbs, and sections of South Jersey. This means air safety should become even more of a concern - and cost - particularly for communities within a few miles of the airport, where most accidents occur. Among those communities are Southwest Philadelphia, Collingdale, Aldan, Darby, Yeadon, Upper Darby, Haverford and Lower Merion.

Questions have not been answered about whether accidents and other emergencies could be handled adequately. Would there be enough emergency personnel, for example, and who would train, equip and pay them year after year? The best way to review a worst-case scenario is before - rather than after - a plane goes down.

According to a draft environmental impact statement, some steps would be taken to minimize accidents. A runway safety area would be created to prevent aircraft heavily laden with passengers, cargo and baggage from overshooting Runway 17-35 and crashing into safety barriers or the Delaware River. The U.S. Coast Guard also would work more closely with air-traffic controllers to let them know if ships traveling along the Delaware would interfere with planes landing or taking off, leading to still more flight delays.

What of plans to deepen the Delaware River so that larger vessels can travel on it? Larger vessels and increased shipping traffic at nearby oil refineries and storage facilities would increase the danger.

I have studied the draft environmental impact statement and almost no attention was given to how an extended runway would affect Delaware County or the other counties surrounding the airport or in its flight path. There are no field data for communities surrounding the airport; what is there is mostly statistical guesswork and mumbo-jumbo. It seemed as if the only thing that mattered was demonstrating that the airport's runway extension plan would not have a negative impact. That's bad science.

Who knows what the future would bring? It is expected that an extended runway would be used only for 10 years. No guarantee exists, however, that future upgrades and improvements would be made at Philadelphia International Airport to extend the runway's life. Of course, that would bring additional costs and more devastating impacts on the region.

Before we spend $38 million or more in taxpayer money, we must ask ourselves this question: Is the extension worth the cost to people and the environment? If it doesn't look like it, then the plan should fail.

Sent via email from Dr. Levin.



Philadelphia Inquirer 12/13/2004 Airport's idea to extend runway falls way short
 
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