Malfunctioning navigational equipment at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is forcing many aircraft to fly over neighborhoods north of the airport rather than Old Tampa Bay, and airport officials said Wednesday the timing of a fix isn't known.
Airport director Thomas Jewsbury said at a meeting of the airport's noise-abatement task force that a navigational aid used by pilots and maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration was taken off line in late March because of technical problems.
That has led to an increased number of flights unable to fly over the waters of Old Tampa Bay and away from homes in Safety Harbor, he said.
Noise complaints to the task force increased to 48 in the second quarter of 2015, about triple the number from a year earlier. But some households complain multiple times, so the 48 complaints represent 22 households, the task force reported.
Jewsbury said he did not know when the FAA would complete repairs. "I wish I could give an exact time," he said after the meeting. "Hopefully, sooner than later."
In the meantime, the airport is working with the FAA on alternate flight procedures that will help alleviate noise. For example, flight controllers ask aircraft departing the Pinellas airport to turn out toward the water not long after takeoff.
Some area residents who attended the meeting said they were puzzled by the long delay in fixing the equipment.
"I can't believe that you can't call Home Depot and have some guy come out and fix the thing," said Gilbert Jannelli of Clearwater.
The equipment that is out involves the airport's VHF Omni-Directional Range, or VOR. It transmits a radio signal to all directions of the compass and is used by pilots to establish their position.
Bob Fowler, an FAA technical operations representative who attended the meeting, said FAA employees were working hard to fix the problem. "We're doing the best we can," he said.
Another issue is that the airport's main carrier, Allegiant Air, is flying its busiest schedule ever at St. Pete-Clearwater, and frequent delays lead to additional flights coming late in the evening, airport officials said.
Safety Harbor resident Roy Bliven said he is often disturbed by the loud aircraft.
"Believe me, I know exactly how low they come in over my house," he said. "I wasn't pleased when I could read the flight number on the side of the plane as they were going over my house. I'd wave to the pilots. I think I know them all."
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