City leaders want to tone down noisy, low-flying Amazon jets, particularly those flying at night and in the early morning. But they admit it will be a long struggle to get federal officials to change rules that keep departing aircraft flying low over Lakeland.
Many people within about five miles of Lakeland Linder International Airport, including as far south of Mulberry, have heard and seen the low-flying jets.
The fix for toning down the Amazon jet noise is complicated because several government agencies are involved, most critically the Federal Aviation Agency, according to Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz. Mutz said Amazon “wants to be a good neighbor and is doing what they can” to lower noise levels.
He knows the issue well because “They fly right over my house,” he said.
It was considered a coup in 2019 when the city of Lakeland signed a 50-year deal to lease 47 acres to Amazon. Amazon said their 223,000-square-foot sorting facility will produce 800 to 1,000 jobs. The company moved its sorting facility from Tampa because it had no room to expand at Tampa International Airport.
Lease payments to the city would amount to $967,812 a year on 47 acres with the amount subject to resetting in five years, officials said when the agreement was signed.
U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, a former Navy pilot and Lakeland city commissioner, confirmed that Lakeland airspace has been constricted for years.
“For all the years I’ve flown out of Lakeland, there’s a (2,000-foot) hold down after takeoff until cleared to climb by Tampa Departure Control. A hold down of some sort is standard procedure, especially in busy airspace like we have here between Tampa and Orlando,” he said in a text message to LkldNow.
“Since Departure Control owns the airspace, pilots have to switch to their frequency, departure has to identify them on radar and then ensure there’s no traffic conflict before they can be cleared to climb higher. Sometimes that happens pretty quickly and sometimes, for example, if the controller is handling several aircraft at the same time, it might take a minute or so.”
He said a jet flying below 10,000 feet, roughly 5 miles a minute, can easily traverse all of Lakeland before getting clearance to climb.
“The FAA is aware of the need to modify the longstanding departure procedures for (Lakeland Linder), but they’re a slow-moving bureaucracy. I’m confident it’ll happen, but probably not quickly. … Jets are terribly inefficient when flying low and slow. They want to get high and fast ASAP.”
Commissioner Stephanie Madden first publicly broached the low-flying jet issue during a Jan. 4 City Commission meeting.
She said she knows she is supposed to hear the cha-ching of a cash register when Amazon jets fly overhead, but she’s still getting complaints.
City officials say they are working with the federal government to mitigate the problem, particularly in the hours most people are sleeping.
Lakeland Airport Director Gene Conrad said he’s working on it, but unfortunately it will take time. He said he wants, at the very least, to get the 2,000-foot restriction up to 3,000 feet.
Without some relief in federal restrictions, the noise of “loitering jets” could actually get worse before it gets better as the airport keeps expanding, he said.