Building Towards A Future Of Flight
By RICHARD FASANELLA
On a frigid December morning at an
unassuming field called Kitty Hawk, a pair of innovative inventors shattered all previous
notions of human limitations. While their first successful flight lasted a mere 12
seconds, it was ample time for Orville and Wilbur Wright to revolutionize the future.
Nearly a century later, John F. Kennedy International Airport is reaching far beyond
anything the two aviation pioneers ever envisioned to build a transportation and commerce
center in Queens for 2000 and beyond.
FUTURE IS NOW: A plane coming in for a landing over futuristically redesigned terminal.
Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen
With travelers flocking to
New York City in record numbers, the quasi-governmental agency known as the Port Authority
is undertaking the largest airport renovation program in history to keep pace with the
growing menagerie of faces that pass through J.F.K. every day.
The J.F.K. Redevelopment Program consists
of Port Authority and tenant construction and expansion projects. Already completed is the
construction of a new Terminal 1 on the site of the former Eastern Air Lines facility.
Currently, major terminal construction projects are underway at British Airways and
Terminal 4, and construction at American Airlines is expected to begin later this year.
The Port Authoritys program includes a new roadway system, new and upgraded
utilities, a new Air Traffic Control Tower, three new parking garages and a light rail
tranist system that will link the passenger terminals to one another and to the Long
Island Rail Road and the city subway system.
However, these advancements have a price
that may far exceed the $9 billion investment, as community concerns continue to grow over
safety, environmental and quality of life issues.
A major component of the
Port Authoritys redevelopment project the controversial $1.5 billion AirTrain
has already reached the halfway mark, according to Port Authority Executive
Director Robert E. Boyle.
An artists rendition of the impending AirTrain.
Construction began in September 1998
on the 8.1-mile light rail system that will connect to the Howard Beach Station of the A
train, and to the Jamaica Station transportation complex, where passengers can change for
the Long Island Rail Road, the E, J and Z subway lines, and more than 40 bus lines.
Boyle said the on-airport segments of
AirTrain will be completed in late 2002, with the link to Jamaica Station scheduled for
completion in 2003.
However, communities near the airport have
fought the rail project since its inception. After the City Council overwhelmingly
approved the new transit system last spring though their own report identified
concerns over some aspects of the plan the battle moved into the courts. In
October, the Southeast Queens Concerned Neighbors and the Committee for Better Transit
filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to halt work on the rail line.
Residents fear noise and confusion from
construction of the 3.1 mile elevated line along the median of the Van Wyck Expressway,
and say it will turn the side streets into a parking lot. They worry about construction
destroying water mains and house foundations, and criticize the use of a highway median.
So far, only City Councilwoman Julia Harrison has supported the neighbors, filing a friend
of the court brief on their behalf.
SPECIAL IN THE AIR
While the embattled AirTrain
project continues to progress, Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently announced that the New York
City Industrial Development Agency (IDA) will help American Airlines construct a new
59-gate terminal at J.F.K. The 2 million-square-foot terminal is expected to be completed
in 2006 and will feature three concourses that will accomodate approximately 40,000
passengers per day, or 14 million passengers a year, making it the largest-ever airport
construction project to be undertaken by a single airline.
A sign at Kennedy Airport highlighting various
Photo By Ira Cohen
At its December Board
meeting, the IDA approved an agreement to provide American with $1.3 billion in triple
tax-exempt Special Exempt Facility Revenue Bonds to build the new terminal. The facility
will be located on the site of Americans former Terminals 8 and 9 and on 42 acres of
land behind the existing terminals. The facility will also serve American Eagle,
Americans regional line, and international carriers with which American has
"American Airlines currently employs
approximately 4,500 workers at J.F.K.," said Randy Levine, deputy mayor of Economic
Development, Planning and Administration. "This new terminal will add more than 1,200
new permanent jobs at the airport, as well as create over 1,000 construction jobs. This is
a huge benefit for the Queens community, as well as for all of New York City."
Though supporting the
American Airlines project, the Mayor has also shown disdain for the Port Authority itself.
In October, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) on behalf of
the Giuliani administration issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the
privatization of both New York airports when the Port Authoritys lease runs out in
2015. The EDC has extended the deadline for proposals to Jan. 28, 2000 because several
potential respondents have requested more time to prepare comprehensive proposals.
"Due to the complex nature of this
important project, the City and EDC have decided to extend the deadline," said EDC
President Michael G. Carey. "It is paramount that we get the very best proposals
possible for our airports."
The selected company will initially act as
a consultant to the EDC on airport matters until the Port Authoritys lease expires
in 2015. At that time or earlier if the lease is terminated the company will
assume management, operation and development of J.F.K. and LaGuardia on behalf of the
The changes at J.F.K. are
not limited to the facilities and services. William R. DeCota has been named the new
Director of Aviation, with responsibility for Kennedy, Newark and LaGuardia airports and
the unprecedented $15 billion public-private redevelopment program of the worlds
largest airport complex.
Decotas duties will also include
overseeing the development, construction, operations and maintenance at the major area
airports, as well as working on various promotion campaigns sponsored by the Port
DeCota, 42, an Old Bridge, N.J., resident,
succeeds Robert J. Kelly, who retired last week after a 30-year career with the Port
ON THE HOMEFRONT?
DeCota will have is hands
full as he steps into the middle of one of the most beleaguered management groups.
Billions of dollars in Port Authority projects were thrown into limbo recently after the
six New York commissioners boycotted a board meeting, charging that the giant bi-state
agency favors New Jersey.
Vice Chairman Charles Gargano, New
Yorks highest-ranking commission official, called the meeting a "charade"
and said that at some point the panel of commissioners will have to address the inequity.
The agencys day-to-day operations at
the bridges and tunnels, airports, PATH trains and ports have continued without
interruption, but billions worth of new business remains stalled, including the
prospective sale of the World Trade Center, the sale of air rights over the Port Authority
Bus Terminal in Manhattan and the creation of a deep-water port in Newark Bay.
ENVIRONMENT FOR EVERYONE
The expansion projects have
also raised the ire of various community groups concerned about the risks increased air
traffic poses to the surrounding environment. Sane Aviation For Everyone (S.A.F.E.), a
coalition of independent citizens groups and individuals in the New York City
metropolitan area, is dedicated to stopping and reversing the environmental and health
impact of the area airports and the fair sharing of these impacts.
But more worrisome, public officials and
health advocates say, is whether a familys chronic illnesses as well as the
high rate of asthma in southeast Queens, especially among children can be blamed on
Such concerns have spurred efforts by
public and private agencies to get to the root of the problem. State Assemblyman William
Scarborough of St. Albans, relying on a study by a national non-profit environmental group
called The Natural Resources Defense Council, has introduced legislation in Albany to test
for pollutants at the airports and surrounding communities. And Queens Borough President
Claire Shulman called in city, state and federal environmental agencies in 1998 to monitor
air quality throughout the borough.
OVER AIR SPACE TRAFFIC
Meanwhile, the steady drone
of airplanes over homes and schools continues to be a plight on the residents of Queens.
Later this month, some of these residents
are planning to take their concerns directly to the Federal Aviation Administration, which
is embarked on a six-year, $30 million master plan to redesign the Citys air space.
The agencys aim is to move planes in and out more efficiently while also reducing
Elected officials in Queens say that in
recent years they have received increasing complaints about the aircraft noise.
Transportation officials counter that
claim, saying no major changes have been made in the regions flight patterns in
nearly 15 years and that the advent of larger planes had actually reduced the umber of
flights into the airports.
According to a Federal Aviation
Administration spokesman, weather and crowded skies sometimes cause jets to deviate from a
planned approach. Under the agencys proposed airspace redesign, planes might be
allowed to fly at higher altitudes before landing and after takingoff to help reduce
The agency will hold public meetings on the
redesign at the Ramada Plaza at J.F.K. on Feb. 3, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, Queens residents continue to
pause, mid-conversation, and let the plane pass overhead as the revolution of aviation has
yet to reach the level of peace and quiet that fell over Kitty Hawk before the brothers