Due to changes at LaGuardia Airport and the increase of low-flying planes, well over 100 disconcerted residents of northeast Queens rallied at State Senator Tony Avella's district office Saturday calling for a solution to the unrelenting sound of jet engines heard overhead.
Susan Fleming, Bayside resident for the last 30 years, first noticed the abnormally low-flying planes in her neighborhood about six months ago.
“Instead of counting sheep, I could be counting airplanes,” Fleming said. “I can be lying in bed and I’ll hear one plane coming, and as it starts to fade there’s another one right after it.”
Reminiscing over trips just miles down the road in Floral Park where she visits her sister, Fleming can’t help but compare the serene atmosphere there to what has only recently been lost in her community of Bayside.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but I am here to check in with Avella and see what can be done,” she said. “The FAA should at least be willing to discuss things with people to see if something can be worked out.”
Standing beside Avella was Congresswoman-elect Grace Meng, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, and a number of area civic leaders, including members from Bay Terrace Community Alliance, Aberdeen Civic Association, Douglaston Civic Association and the Bayside Hills Civic Association.
Avella said that he and Braunstein were told in a meeting with the FAA back in September, that planes were only flying low as part of a “six-month test of new procedures on existing departure and arrival flight patterns” at LaGuardia.
“Ten days ago I learned that the FAA has apparently done some type of environmental review and issued a categorical exclusion, which means they are not required to do a more detailed and formal environmental review of their new procedures,” Avella explained. “Since they issued this exclusion they intend to make these new procedures more permanent.”
Avella said that he is currently in talks with the U.S. Department of Transportation and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to demand the FAA withdraw the exclusion and conduct a “part 150 study,” a request that would require the airport to volunteer a re-evaluation of noise exposure in the affected area.
“I urge each and every resident of northeast Queens to contact our federal elected officials to demand they support the community’s efforts to stop the FAA from formally implementing these new procedures,” he added.
Braunstein is also confused with the way the FAA handled a meeting with elected officials, explaining that they unfairly cut off any talks with no explanation.
“What I’ve heard is the FAA is going from ground-based control to doing it from a satellite and the goal is to be able to get more planes off in a safer matter,” Braunstein explained. “When me and Senator Avella met with the FAA early on, they said it’s a test, they said the community would have an opportunity for input and they never came back to give us an opportunity to give any ideas. They just turned around one day and said ‘no it’s permanent, sorry.’”
Like many other neighbors at the rally, he describes the last six months as a living nightmare.
“I was at my mother’s house up the road, and we started realizing, when we were watching TV with the windows open, that once a minute you had to stop and let a plane go by,” he said.
The FAA responded to the Queens Ledger in an email from Elizabeth Ray, vice president of mission support services at the Air Traffic Organization, to a concerned resident stating that the “FAA conducted an environmental review according to the requirements of the National Environment Policy Act.”
“Following the review, the FAA approved the procedure for use when JFK is operating under other runway configurations,” Ray wrote in the email in regards t the use of additional runways at LaGuardia. “We are working to determine the best way to implement the use of this procedure with these other runway configurations.”
The email adds that while the FAA has “no control over airport growth, airport operations, local airport noise abatement programs or voluntary noise abatement procedures,” they are still going to stay “committed to being environmentally responsible and minimizing noise along with other negative impacts to the greatest extent possible.”
Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Cooperative and Bay Terrace Community Alliance, has lived in the area for a little over two decades and has never seen the problem this bad.
“When there has been a major event going on either at Flushing-Meadow Park or at that time it was Shea Stadium; sometimes if they had a concert or at the U.S. Open, they would divert the flights,” Schreiber said. “They did that, not as a courtesy, but because the USTA or whomever would pay a lot of money.”
As more and more people showed up to the meeting, Schreiber, while skeptical that anything will be fixed in the near future, pointed out proudly that his community will stand together until it gets resolved.
“This is the type of community this is,” he said. “We’re all from different civic pools, but we are always in contact with each other, and it’s that type of place here in northeast Queens.”