By S.L. Fuller, James T. McKenna | May 25, 2017
Intensifying noise complaints from Texas neighbors may accelerate Bell Helicopter plans to develop a new flight training area on the grounds of its main Fort Worth plant.
Bell moved its flight training base to the plant about 10 nm southeast from Fort Worth Alliance Airport in 2015. A cargo/maintenance facility, the airport was an ideal location, as its ramp and flight practice area were isolated from concentrations of homes. The move was made as part of a multi-year effort to concentrate operations and cut facility costs, but it has had drawbacks. Customers departing the main plant on training flights still have to fly northwest to the practice area adjacent to Alliance, adding time and fuel burn to the training. The proximity to the training area of Alliance and Fort Worth Meacham International Airport about 10 nm to its south means the training helicopters have to stay below flight paths to and from those facilities. That leaves the Bell trainers flying low over closely packed neighborhoods, whose residents have been clamoring for relief.
Local news outlets have reported the frustration of residents in Tarrant County, saying that some feel their complaints are not heard. Since a reported May 2016 ???, residents have been voicing their concerns. Bell has taken steps to mitigate noise. News reports said the company moved northbound flights from a route along the Highway 377 corridor to an adjacent main road, Rufe Snow Drive, after noise complaints. But some residents are not satisfied, saying that merely shifted the noise from one residential area to another.
“Bell Helicopter strives to be a good neighbor and is making every effort to ‘fly friendly’ over roadways in the neighborhoods where we live and work,” Bell’s webpage dedicated to noise reads. "All Bell trainer are equipped with GPS devices to monitor their traffic along the flight path "within our typical hours of operations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Based on demand, late evening flights may be scheduled Monday through Thursday during which pilots are instructed in the use of night vision goggles for law enforcement, medical and energy applications.”
Bell goes on to explain that it does not have full control over flight paths and altitude. DFW International Airport, Alliance, Meacham — and through them, the FAA — impose limits on mitigation actions the company can take. Flight paths and altitude are also subject to weather and air traffic conditions.
Plans are in the works to develop land Bell owns to the east of its current Training Academy location at the southwest corner of its main Fort Worth site and relocate the Alliance practice area. The proposed site, along Trinity Boulevard, has the advantage of being adjacent to a large swath of undeveloped land, much of it covered with water. But the uneven land on both property will require preparation before it can house helicopter landing pads, platforms and runways like the location near Alliance.
News reports said that the company has already conducted some engineering and drainage studies. Those studies — as well as city, state and federal approvals — are needed before any construction can begin. Until then, reports said Bell it hopes to start reducing training operations at Alliance by the latter half of 2018.