County Commissioners vote in favor of ILM military operations, hoping noise and flight patterns will change course

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A plane taxis onto an ILM runway. (photo: Matt Bennett)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — In New Hanover County, residents living near Wilmington International Airport have complained about an increase in military aircraft and excessive noise. Now, a new resolution voted on by county commissioners could continue business with the military with promise of changes ahead.

The vote Monday was specifically to support military operations at ILM, which according to the resolution, brings $14 million a year to local economy.

Opposition to increased military aircraft noise has taken off among residents like Brendan O’Donnell.

“The noise is ear splitting, painful, and was going on regularly and frequently,” O’Donnell said during public comments.

The controversy launched debate among county leaders, like former Navy man Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, who was stationed in Key West.

“And for the life of me… I never recall in the time that I stayed there hearing jets fly over downtown Key West where tourists were,” Barfield remembered.

Though Commissioner Bill Rivenbark declined an interview, saying he doesn’t speak to the media, he was outspoken to one state representative over email, saying, “Please do you job and quit worrying about the jets.”

The controversy caused the military to nearly change course from ILM.

According to Airport Authority Chairman Donna Girardot, “When the military heard these statements, their first reaction was to immediately shut down all military operations at ILM.”

It was one of the reasons commissioners voted unanimously to support military operations at ILM, though Barfield and other residents did make it clear holding a body accountable is not un-American.

“I’m pro-military, 100 percent. But it’s just gotten horrible,” said one resident near the airport as she mowed her lawn.
“We start painting people into a corner,” Commissioner Barfield continued. “Either you love the military or you don’t. Either you’re American or you aren’t. And this is not about those kinds of things. This is about taking care of people”

Girardot confirmed in Monday’s meeting the FAA and military were drafting a letter of agreement.

“The military has committed to immediately altering their flight patterns and speeds, set altitude limits for certain power settings and operations,” Girardot explained.

“I’m glad to see that there’s a solution found in the military deciding to choose a different flight pattern, but that should have been done a long time ago,” Barfield commented.

According to Girardot, the military has a contract with Modern Aviation on ILM’s property, not ILM itself. The military often uses it for training exercises and “hot fueling,” quickly fueling jets without turning engines off.

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