As Eden Prairie grows, an airport tries to get along with neighbors

Apart from the big airport, when it comes to airport noise complaints, Flying Cloud Airport is the bad child.

Its supporters note that the airport in Eden Prairie, one of the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s six “reliever” airports, has been around for 70 years, far longer than most of the people still alive to complain about the comings and goings of little airplanes and big corporate jets.

“Flying Cloud is a different place now than it was 70 years ago,” Jennifer Lewis, a specialist in MAC’s Noise Program Office, told several dozen pilots at the airport on Saturday morning. “The thing has completely changed and it now has to be a more cooperative effort.”

As part of that effort, Lewis was looking for help from the pilots, who otherwise might be insulted by complaints about the noise they make. After all, they were there first.

The problem is new development southwest of the airport. Hundreds of apartments, condos, and a few McMansions have sprung up in recent years, directly under the airport’s flight path.

“I try to explain [to those who complain] that it’s open 24 hours a day,” Lewis said.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission objected to the construction of the homes. The land was originally zoned for commercial development by Eden Prairie. But when the building boom started, and when MAC wanted to extend the length of a runway, the agency, the airport and the city adopted a noise abatement plan that is largely voluntary.

Lewis says much of her job is educating people — homeowners and pilots — and it seems to be working. Complaints are down and pilots are becoming more attentive to the noise they make.

Just a few years ago, for example, there were more than 9,000 noise complaints from neighbors, putting Flying Cloud easily at the top of the list for airports here with unhappy neighbors.

Compare that to other airports where neighbors live close by. At South St. Paul’s Fleming Field, an airport not run by MAC, about 10 complaints a year are registered, most of them having to do with the B-24 “Miss Mitchell” that is based there.

But other MAC reliever airports don’t have the problems of Eden Prairie. Crystal Airport, for example, gets relatively few complaints.

Why the difference?

“It has to do with the community itself,” Lewis told the pilots. “It’s a new community and there are those who feel that now that they live there, it’s not OK to have the airport and it needs to go. They just don’t understand what the airport is all about. They don’t have a history with it.”

She says residents of the new developments are supposed to be informed by real estate people that there’s a working airport next door.

When there is a complaint — and most complaints occur at night — MAC consults its tracking system and sends the pilot a letter advising of noise abatement procedures.

Noise complaints in recent months have dropped, officials said. And MAC is trying to organize a session where neighbors can meet pilots and, perhaps, go for a ride to understand why a plane is over someone’s house.

And the airport is being more sensitive to its new neighbors. New corporate hangar construction by TCF, for example, recently prompted a call from a neighbor who said the lights are shining in her bedroom. TCF shuts the lights off at 10 p.m. now and plans to replace them with lighting directed away from the home, according to Glenn Burke of MAC, who is temporarily in charge of Flying Cloud.

But the airport isn’t going away and Lewis is searching for a balance.

“There’s a reason people prefer to live here,” she told the pilots. “But in addition to our preference, we have to adjust our tolerance.”

For more information: Reliever airport noise abatement plan (MAC)

Related: Lake Elmo residents, MAC at odds over airport plan (MPR NewsCut)