By RICHARD FASANELLA & JOSH KAUFMAN
A family relaxes in a Queens backyard,
barbecuing in the shade of the trees that can make the borough so beautiful, enjoying a
lazy Memorial Day weekend and trying to ignore the uninvited roar of a 747 jet
engine coming in low overhead.
New York airports have won an extension to limit flights
Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen
It is the price of life in Queens.
Some track the weather by the change in flight patterns over their neighborhoods, others
pause classes till the noise clears and learning can continue. One woman living in an
Astoria Heights apartment building told the Tribune that she leans out her window
and waves at the pilots . . . who wave back.
But as the warm weather returns, Queens
residents take to the outdoors, and the noise again becomes the loudest voice of everyday
life. The debate around the borough continues, as some political camps maintain that the
changes in the "high density" law will bring a quieter Queens and others say we
have only just begun to suffer.
When President Bill Clinton
signed the Aviation Investment And Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21) into law on
April 5, it was hailed by many in the Queens Congressional Delegation as a major victory.
Is airplane noise the price of Queens life or can borough
residents expect friendlier skies in the near future?
Tribune Photo by Liz Goff
The bill, in its original form,
called for the immediate elimination of the "High Density Rule" which
protects U.S. airports from excessive flight numbers.
But the New York delegation has gotten the
rule extended until 2007, which some say is the best deal possible because,
when FAA reauthorization comes up for renewal in 2005, they will have another shot to
extend the rule.
However, to get the support needed for the
extention, the delegation had to agree to allow every airline the opportunity to add 20
additional flights. Those possible flights, described as "limited exemptions" to
the rule, could only be smaller, regional jets equipped with state-of-the-art quiet
Published figures have estimated that the
change could mean as many as 300 to 400 new flights at LaGuardia a day, and although these
kinds of figures have Queens civic leaders worried, local legislators maintain that it
simply would not pay for every airline to take advantage of every one of the very
"It is irresponsible to
talk about adding hundreds of flights at LaGuardia airport," said Congressman Joseph
Crowley. "As someone who lives in the flight path of the airport, I share the
frustration and concern over the noise generated by aircraft. I have advocated on behalf
of the community surrounding the airport for the past 13 years, first as a State
Assemblyman, and now as a member of Congress. Since coming to Congress, I have been
fighting to limit the number of flights at LaGuardia."
According to Crowley, the Queens
Congressional Delegation scored a major round one victory by keeping the high density rule
intact for large aircraft. New Yorks airports were the only airports to win this
extension which limits the number of take-offs and landings of large commercial aircraft
at LaGuardia and JFK airports, until 2007.
"Now we must fight round two
stopping the addition of smaller craft flights at LaGuardia," Crowley added. "We
are approaching this in the same manner as a unified delegation. I am organizing a
meeting for the Congressional delegation to sit down with U.S. Transportation Secretary
Rodney Slater, and Claire Shulman to investigate the air noise, environmental, and safety
hazards of additional flights.
"I have no intention of resting until
we can be assured that no new flights are added at LaGuardia; homes and schools around the
airport are sound-proofed; and Congress passes a Stage IV standard for new aircraft
one that is even quieter than the current state-of-the-art Stage III."
Congressman Anthony Weiner agreed with his
colleague, saying that without the delegations efforts to extend the High Density Rule
there would have been a much more congested situation at the area airports.
"We in the Queens Congressional
Delegation were able to grab victory from the jaws of defeat with AIR 21," Weiner
said. "Residents around LaGuardia know their skies should be quieter still. But
without the Queens Delegation-backed provisions of AIR21, unlimited numbers of noisy jumbo
jets would be polluting our airspace today."
Congressman Gary Ackerman, the Dean of the
Queens Delegation, called the law "a solid win for the people of Queens and New York
State," adding that "it is evident that the Queens Congressional Delegation
knows how to dance in Washington."
However, not everyone was as
enthusiastic about the new aviation law, with some legislators vowing to fight any
additional flights into New Yorks airports.
"I voted against H.R. 1000 when it
passed the House because it was an irresponsible bill that dramatically increased the
annual aviation budget while removing the authority of the House Appropriations Committee
of which I am a member to ensure that this budget is being spent efficiently
and effectively," said Congresswoman Nita Lowey..
Even elected officials at the City level,
have expressed their displeasure with the potential for increased noise and travel delays
that any additional flights could bring to Queens residents.
"I am vehemently opposed to what is
about to become the largest expansion of aviation traffic in decades," said Council
Speaker Peter Vallone.
Councilwoman Julia Harrison, a long time
representative of the district that encompasses LaGuardia Airport, has also expressed her
disdain for the new slot exemptions that will allow more regional jets into the airways
"This is not a wise move politically
or otherwise, especially in this election year," Harrison said. "Mrs. Clinton is
seeking support from the people who will be most affected by this increase in air traffic.
But I guess that doesnt matter to the President, wholl be far away from these
terminals and runways when hes retired in Chappaqua."
The potential for hundreds of new flights
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.
More worrisome than the
noise, 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 airport pollution.
Such concerns have spurred efforts by
public and private agencies to get to the root of the problem.
Betty Braton, Chairperson of Community
Board 10, recently held a rally at JFK airport to express growing community concerns
regarding the possibility of increasing airport traffic.
"The City seems to be encouraging
additional flights and increased cargo activity but does not seem to be addressing the
potential impact that these activities can have on the surrounding neighborhoods,"
"When economic development is spurred
it brings impacts on the surrounding area that are not always positive for those
areas," Braton added, refferring to health problems experienced by local residents
such as asthma.
William R. DeCota, director
of the Aviation Department of the Port Authority, spoke to 75 community and business
leaders of Long Island City on future improvements being made to John F. Kennedy (JFK) and
LaGuardia (LGA) Airports at a meeting sponsored by Modells Sporting Goods and the
Long Island City Business Development Corporation (LICBDC).
"Air travel is not what it used to
be," said DeCota. "Its not just on airplanes you cant get an olive
in your martini. Customer satisfaction with airline travel ranks below their perception of
being audited by the IRS."
The new plans of the Port Authority (PA)
which operates JFK and LGA has been formulated to put "airports in the midst of a
renaissance" and will hopefully imprint the PAs "vision of unparalleled
global access" on New York City, said DeCota.
To help diffuse air traffic, global
positioning satellite (GPS) technologies are being studied. Preliminary reports indicate
that GPS technology can be used to better coordinate air traffic by precisely routing
THE LAY OF THE LAND
Renovations and improvements
targeted for JFK have received $9.2 billion in funding. Construction has begun on
redeveloping terminals 8 and 9 in JFK transforming them from 40-year old antiquated
terminals into a state-of-the-art 58 gate terminal with all the amenities, said DeCota.
$5.1 billion of JFKs funding has been targeted to redevelop each of the nine
passenger terminals in the airport.
The terminals at LGA will also be rebuilt
from the bottom up, and by 2010, every terminal in both airports will be reconstructed.
LGA is the "Nations premier business airport," according to DeCota.
Parking facilities at LGA will receive a
$25 million facelift this fall. Until a year or two ago, there was no long term parking at
LGA, said DeCota.
The roadways that wind through JFK and LGA
have been known to be confusing. To address this problem, extensive plans to reconfigure,
extend, and reconstruct miles of roadway are currently in the works, said DeCota.
Finally, Phase One of the rail project is nearly complete,
DeCorta adding, which the PA believes will improve Kennedy Airports negative impact
on local traffic. By 2002, a high-speed rail link between midtown Manhattan and JFK will
be operational, said DeCota.