Lakeland seeks relief from rumble of low-flying jets

Lakeland seeks relief from rumble of low-flying jets

Caption: Lakeland seeks relief from rumble of low-flying jets

LAKELAND — The rumble of jet engines may mean money for Lakeland, but even city officials are seeking relief from noise of low-flying cargo planes at night.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden said she’s received numerous complaints from Lakeland residents about the roar of low-flying jet engines.

“I’m supposed to hear a cash register chinging money every time someone complains about Amazon’s planes,” she said. “But I’ve still heard complaints.”

Amazon Air began operations at its 285,000-square-foot cargo hub at Lakeland Linder International Airport in late July. It has gradually ramped up to eight flights daily, according to the company, consisting of three Boeing 767s and five Boeing 737 freighters.

Under its agreement with the city, Amazon pays the municipal-owned airport $80,000 a month to lease property in addition to 85 cents per 1,000 pounds of cargo landed at the airport, and a 3-cent surcharge per gallon of fuel.

Gene Conrad, the airport’s director, said he estimates he has received approximately 40 noise complaints from city residents in the past six months.

“Their concerns and their complaints are valid,” he said. “We won’t be able to make everybody happy, but there are specific things we might be able to mitigate some of it.”

Mayor Bill Mutz sent a letter Nov. 30 to Tampa Air Traffic Control, which is responsible for the airspace between 2,000 to 4,000 feet above Lakeland, asking whether planes could be allowed to fly at a higher altitude to reduce noise heard on the ground.

“Over the last several weeks, our city has received numerous noise complaints from surrounding communities, some six to eight miles away, as departing air cargo aircraft are held down below 2,000 feet waiting for Tampa Departure to give them instructions to climb to a higher altitude,” reads Mutz’s letter. “Specifically, most complaints occur due to early morning departures and the fact that they cannot climb above 2,000 feet.”

Conrad said what seems like a simple request to fly a little higher, especially between of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., is fairly complex. Lakeland Linder’s location between Tampa and Orlando airports means its highly trafficked airspace, according to Conrad. Changes in daily operating procedures require the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval.

“If we can get higher altitudes we absolutely want to do that as we want to be good neighbors,” he said.

Conrad said the airport is preparing to hire an outside consultant to work with the FAA to develop new procedures, possibly changing planes’ takeoff and arriving altitudes, and hopefully reduce the noise impact on communities near the airport. The consultants are necessary, Conrad said, as they are former air traffic controllers who have extensive knowledge and expertise in directing airplanes that he himself lacks.

“I can’t stress enough that these things take time,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight.”

Lakeland officials widely acknowledged that they expect Lakeland Linder airport to continue to grow in the near future. Conrad has spoken about pursuing agreement for a carrier to operate commercial passenger flights out of the airport and was in talks with American Airlines prior to the pandemic.