Aug. 31, 2016 Hannah Wulkan
Residents of Northeastern Queens were vindicated in their longtime complaints about airplane noise yesterday when a local group released a report showing that plane traffic over Jackson Heights had increased nearly 80 percent since 2008.
Queens Quiet Skies, an activist group founded in 2012 to fight against aviation noise and pollution, submitted several Freedom of Information Act requests to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year regarding plane traffic out of LaGuardia airport. Vice President of QQS Brian Wills then analyzed the data and put together a report, which he presented alongside State Senator Tony Avella yesterday.
Plane traffic across Northeast Queens had increased by 47 percent since 2002.
Wills explained that in 2002 there were 57,000 plane departures over Northeast Queens annually. However in 2016, “we are on pace for over 100,000 departures. That’s nearly a doubling of departures over this neighborhood,” he said. He also said that Jackson Heights has seen nearly a seven fold increase in airplane traffic overhead during that period, and it is mostly on weekends when most people would like to enjoy their leisure time.
“This is just staggering, and we are getting it straight from the Port Authority,” Wills added.
According to the activists, the FAA and Port Authority blame this uptick on wind and weather, and say there are no real operational changes out of LaGuardia. However, the activists claim that wind patterns have remained the same.
“They say nothing has changed but it has changed and their own data says it,” Wills said. “I don’t want to say that they’re lying but they’re not being quite honest, we have had operational changes over this neighborhood and the FOIA requests prove it.”
In a statement, Port Authority said that the number of flights out of LaGuardia has remained steady over the last decade. “Air traffic patterns are controlled by the FAA based on a variety of factors including wind, weather, mandated runway maintenance and safety. Our analysis shows the boundaries of significant noise (which is Federally defined as 65DNL) in areas around the airport have not changed significantly since 2008,” the statement read.
Wills and Avella both called for several specific next steps. Both said that there needs to be a roundtable meeting between community members, FAA officials, Port Authority officials, airline officials, airport management, and elected officials. These meetings are fairly standard, they claim, in most metropolitan areas with airports, but do not yet exist in New York.
They also called for the completion of the already underway CFR Part 150 Airport Noise Compatibility Planning Studies, which examine noise pollution from aircrafts, and the implementation of noise abatement programs.
“We all felt we were getting more airplane noise over this community and now the records show it,” Avella said. “But even with the effect we’re getting, other neighborhoods are getting it as well,” he added, explaining that air traffic should be divided evenly between surrounding neighborhoods.
Wills’ report also delved in to the issue of why the air traffic had increased, given that he could never get an answer other than weather or wind from authorities, he said.
He looked at which runways were used most, and found that while departures on runway 13 over Northeast Queens were up by 47 percent since 2002, departures on all other runways had dropped by 14 percent between 2010 and 2014.
“In 2012, the FAA increased the use of certain departure routes which has shifted aircraft flight patterns to neighborhoods in Northern Queens,” the Port Authority statement said. “Additionally, construction related to Federally-mandated Part 139 runway safety compliance work has forced increased use of a runway pattern leading over Jackson Heights on an interim basis, and is expected to conclude in the coming months.”
However, Wills countered, LaGuardia has instituted several NextGen routes, or routes for a new flight system, on the runways over Northeast Queens, which does not make sense if the increased runway use is only temporary.
“We recognize that the airports are huge economic engines, especially for the borough of Queens, but that doesn’t mean there cant be a balance,” Avella added, “And that’s what were looking for, let’s balance the need and the impact over everybody so that one neighborhood isn’t getting them all.”
QQS Founder and President Janet McEneaney said that she started the organization when she woke up in her home in Bayside one morning and “it felt like a World War II bombing outside my house, and it continued every few minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight.”
She added that there are studies that show that noise and air pollution from planes can be dangerous, and can cause an increased number of heart attacks, asthma in children, and the emissions can have a negative affect on fetuses.
McEneaney said she believes that increased plane traffic has a lot to do with the booming tourism business in New York. “It has a tremendous impact on the quality of life for the people of Queens, and it is time for the people in Queens to be at least as important as the tourists,” she said. She added that she understands that the airlines need to maximize profit, saying “We love capitalism and everyone is entitled to make money, but not at our expense.”
Port Authority plans to hold a public meeting for feedback and review on September 29 at the LaGuardia Airport Marriott, though the time has not yet been announced.
The FAA did not return request for comment by publication.