Column: Airport noise: Reprieve and prepare

BY Scott Neal – Edina City Manager

Since 2007, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) has invested a great deal of time, energy and money to develop plans to implement the next generation of aviation navigation systems which rely on GPS satellite-driven information rather than antiquated ground-based radar. MAC officials will tell you the new aviation system will make the airport safer and operating airplanes more efficient.

City officials, city staff and residents in Bloomington, Richfield, Eagan and Mendota Heights have been working with MAC over that time to help build understanding and acceptance – and even some excitement – among the public for the anticipated decrease in aviation noise that would be caused by the new navigation system.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to some, and a disappointment to others, this week when MAC commissioners decided not to do something they’ve been talking about doing for almost six years. They decided to delay implementation of the new navigation system for runways 30-Right and 30-Left. They recommended the new navigation system be implemented on the MAC’s other runways, most of which impact air traffic and noise south of the Minnesota River.

Why they took this action is not complicated, but given the limits of a Sun-Current commentary, telling it is. I’ll be brief.

The MAC’s action to implement the new navigation system on some runways and not on others was caused by an effective partnership of city governments and residents in Edina and Minneapolis. Residents from both cities mobilized online and in person to spread the word of the impending MAC meeting and the potential detrimental impacts of the new navigation system, which was to relocate and then stabilize new permanent streams of airplane noise over neighborhoods in southwest Minneapolis and Edina that heretofore have not born that burden.

City officials from both cities worked together quickly and not-so-quietly behind the scenes contacting federal, state and county elected officials to seek their assistance in finding a solution to this unacceptable proposal for our two cities. We reached out to staff and appointed officials at the MAC itself to investigate alternatives, and ultimately, to broker the compromise solution that is now on its way to FAA headquarters in Washington D.C.

I told my staff this week that we can celebrate this reprieve for 24 hours, but then it’s time to prepare – for next time. The safety benefits to the FAA and the traveling public (as they like to call us), combined with the economic benefits to Delta Airlines of operating airplanes more efficiently, means this navigation technology issue will be back. The MAC caught us off-guard this time. Next time, we’ll be prepared.