Residents want answers at GTAA meeting on Pearson flight noise during runway revamp

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Residents of some Etobicoke neighbourhoods near Pearson International Airport are eagerly waiting for a meeting with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) Wednesday, hoping to hear when the scream of plane engines overhead will stop. 

Crews have been working on Runway 05-23, which runs east-west at Pearson since late March. The project to lay down a new surface and replace rebar dowels on the runway is expected to finish by mid-May.

But that construction project has meant diverted flight traffic onto north-south runways; creating an earful for residents in Etobicoke, now living directly under the path of hundreds of flights a day coming in on alternate flight paths.

Wednesday's meeting is expected to address the noise created by the temporary plan in Alderwood, Longbranch and Markland Wood.

"I also live under the flight path in Etobicoke and been wondering what's going on the last few weeks," said Peter Milczyn, MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, who added that his office had fielded several dozen complaints about the flight paths. 

"Clearly, there was a breakdown in communication with the GTAA. However it is they advertised this construction activity, nobody seemed to know about it."

Erin Kennedy, spokesperson for the GTAA, said some disruption was unavoidable as the airport attempted to finish the construction "to get ahead of summer travel, to have the impact of [the project] mitigated."

Milcyzn countered by saying the GTAA could have done a better job notifying residents of the extent of the noise they would be hearing before the path diversion plan started.

"First and foremost, I want to hear how [the GTAA] communicates these types of issues, what went wrong here and how they're going to fix it for the future," Milcyzn said.

Nav Canada, the company responsible for managing flight routes in Canada, said 2,276 noise complaints from Etobicoke residents have been registered with the GTAA since the beginning of 2017.

Renewed worries for Don Mills residents

What has been a constant disturbance for Etobicoke residents over the past three weeks has been a welcome respite for people living farther east in Don Mills.

In 2012, Nav Canada shifted flight approaches and condensed the flight traffic over a smaller area near that area of the city. Residents said the amount of sound created increased dramatically — claiming plane engines could be heard overhead every three to five minutes.

Cara McKerracher, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 35 years, said she often hears planes overhead beginning at 5 a.m., stretching throughout the day and into the late evening hours. 

"I've been outside with my neighbours and you have to stop talking at times because they're flying so low and so loud," she said.

She added that she and other residents understand noise is natural in a city but not to the extent they have been experiencing for the past five years. 

A local activist organization called Toronto Aviation Noise Group caught the attention of Rob Oliphant, MPP for Don Valley West, who said Nav Canada has been resistant to making changes despite the evidence of increasing disruption. 

"At various meetings I was at, I did not see Nav Canada in a very responsive light. So I think the [federal] government has pushed Nav Canada to be more responsive," Oliphant said.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau asked Nav Canada to commission a report from an independent third party on the effects of increased jet engine noise and what solutions can be on the table. 

Both Oliphant and Don Mills residents will have to wait until June when the report's findings are expected. 

Nav Canada declined to comment to CBC Toronto on the forthcoming report and on the flight changes that were made in 2012.