Area leaders were thrilled earlier this month when FedEx announced a significant expansion at Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) – including the addition of up to 400 new jobs. However, while that announcement warmed the hearts of area leaders, the latest details of that expansion are renewing some old noise worries among residents who live near PTIA.
FedEx’s expanded operations at PTIA will be felt starting in early September when the company begins adding the new jobs and eight new flights.
Those who live in the Cardinal community and in other neighborhoods near the airport have been concerned for two decades about the prospects of noisier skies over their homes, ever since FedEx announced its intentions to build the new hub at PTIA in the late ’90s. The new FedEx hub did add flights and made the skies noisier, but residents near the airport caught something of a break because FedEx’s operations at PTIA ended up being significantly smaller than planned.
Now, in 2018, with the economy booming, the latest round of increased operations at the FedEx hub, and with new passenger flights being added at PTIA, the trepidation regarding flight noise is growing once again. One concern for some residents is that the FedEx flights being added will bring new nighttime activity. According to information released by the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority, those flights will arrive between 10:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. and depart between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.
Current plans are for the new flights to be limited to four nights per week – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – however, those plans could eventually change to include weekends.
In order to minimize the flight noise for residents living around the airport, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has directed that, whenever wind and other weather conditions permit, the new flights should arrive from the southwest, and, once those planes are emptied and reloaded, they should also depart to the southwest. (A study estimated that weather conditions will allow this practice over 90 percent of the time.)
Airport authorities point out that environmental studies done for the original FedEx hub contemplated up to 63 flights per night, so – even with the additional eight flights – it will be nothing like what was expected before the hub opened and fell short of expectations.
PTIA Executive Director Kevin Baker said the extra air traffic shouldn’t be too noticeable since the airport already has “60 or 70” commercial flights a day in addition to FedEx’s current operations. He said that, given all that activity, the new flights won’t be a big change.
Baker, who took a job with PTIA in 1998 to help oversee FedEx before being named the airport ‘s executive director in 2010, said the new flights will be operated with a more modern and quieter aircraft: Boeing 757’s. Many of the 63 flights expected in the planning phase two decades ago were expected be flown by Boeing 727’s – one of the noisiest planes in the air at that time. Over the years, FedEx has completely retired its fleet of 727’s.
There has already been a recent shift in air traffic patterns that has made it noisier for some residents near the airport. PTIA is currently conducting a multiple phase renovation of what’s usually the airport’s primary runway. In recent months, that’s caused some flights to use other runways, so residents near the airport have experienced a change in air traffic patterns.
The Airport Authority is taking steps to speed up the runway renovation and reestablish normal traffic patterns.
That main runway, once it’s back in service, will be the primary runway for the new FedEx operations – however, airport officials point out that any PTIA runway could be used depending on existing circumstances. Air traffic controllers will make that call.
The airport has seen good growth in passenger traffic and Baker said that’s even more evident in a number that was “hot off the press.” In July 2018 passenger traffic was up 11.4 percent over July 2017. Baker said he was very pleased to see passenger service at PTI increasing at that substantial rate.
In early September, Spirit Airlines is adding flights to PTIA. That’s a good thing for area travelers, but residents near the airport are wary of all new flights added.
The airport is also building a giant aerospace megasite with runway access that could mean many more planes flying in and out in the coming years.
Baker said the initial plans of the FedEx hub in Guilford County were doused by the economic collapse of 2008.
“It opened in one of the worst months ever – June of 2009,” Baker said of the hub that failed to live up to its late ’90s billing.
Baker said other things have also put a damper on FedEx’s business.
“There’s the fact that attorneys will now accept scanned documents,” he said.
In the past, attorneys and law firms were big FedEx customers since those in the legal profession often needed documents sent overnight. Now, of course, they can email those documents.
But a major current market force for the transport industry is online sales and Baker said the growth of the internet fulfillment business is a big driver of air transport traffic these days.
According to Baker, the coming Amazon distribution center in Kernersville could also bring a lot more business to PTIA. That center is expected to create over 900 new jobs.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s great to see growth.”
While residents may be concerned about additional flight noise, area economic development officials are pleased at any new job creation.
Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President Brent Christensen said he’s excited about the FedEx expansion.
“There’s 400 new jobs there – they’ve already begun the hiring process,” Christensen said.
He added that some of the FedEx activity may be seasonal but he expects it to be year round to a large extent.
“We’re seeing a lot of activity in the market that would support that year round,” Christensen said.
The new Amazon distribution center coming to Kernersville should also increase air traffic.
“There has yet to be an announcement regarding that project but there is a lot of dirt being moved already,” he said.