Ford International Will Seem A Bit Noisier Soon

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Consulting engineers for Gerald R. Ford International Airport last week began sending packets of materials to two cities, three townships, the county and the media concerning the facility's new noise profile.

According to James Koslosky, the airport's aeronautics director, the packets contain a new official map of the noise contours of the airport; "official" meaning that the map and underlying research have been approved by the Federal Aviation Agency.

He told the Business Journal that the municipalities will be able to employ the maps in their own planning and zoning programs so as to avert future developments — especially residential developments — in high-noise zones. Receiving the materials will be the city halls of Grand Rapids and Kentwood and the Cascade, Gaines and Caledonia township halls.

The maps indicate that the airport is a much quieter place than it was in 1993, the last time the FAA and the airport published noise contour maps.

Ironically, many people living in the airport's environs probably will find the facility to be noisier in 2001 — and starting as early as late next week, in fact.

Thursday, Feb. 15, is the scheduled closing date for Ford's aged east-west runway, the airport's workhorse runway, which is to undergo reconstruction.

The nine-month project will force landings and takeoffs onto the somewhat shorter north-south runway, meaning that during construction the airport's commercial traffic will be passing over more residential developments when landing or taking off.

So Koslosky said there will be a short-term noise increase that probably will cause a spike in complaints from people whose homes are in the Ford's environs.

And that will be a change.

"So far this year," he said, "I don't think we've had any complaints. And during the last quarter of last year, we had perhaps 20."

This is a much better situation than early in the last decade before FAA got involved in noise-abatement at this and many other airports. Noise-abatement is among the FAA's many oversight responsibilities.

Koslosky said the new maps show an airport with a much lower noise profile than was the case in the late 80s. That's when many homeowners discovered that the developers of their new subdivision neighborhoods had built too close to an activity with already high noise levels.

The same kind of discovery was occurring all over the country, causing FAA to issue a number of mandates to airlines and aircraft manufacturers. In the case of what then was called Kent County International Airport, the FAA rulings had the effect of banning planes making Stage II noise-levels from operating at the airport.

The aircraft industry also has learned how to produce much quieter engines and, finally, Koslosky said changes in the travel industry itself have had a dampening effect upon the noise.

"We have more and more regional aircraft coming in and out of here and they're smaller and quieter than the big planes."

Nonetheless, he said calls probably will follow a typical pattern with a spike in complaints come March and April.

"Spring is when people open their windows and they start noticing noises that they didn't hear during the winter because the house was closed up."

He stressed that higher-than-usual noise from north-south operations will end for good this autumn.

He explained in an earlier interview with the Journal that the reconstruction of the east-west runway will proceed on an accelerated schedule modeled after the high-speed reconstruction of the S-curve.

The project involves entirely taking out two segments of the old runway (the center was replaced last year with reconstruction of the north-south runway) and what remains of its base. Normally the project would take two years.

The project, however, will have two contractors, each taking one segment.

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