Representatives from the FAA met with Congress members Steve Israel and Grace Meng, State Senator Tony Avella, and Assemblyman Ed Braunstein in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday to discuss the impact the changes have had on residential neighborhoods like Flushing, Bayside, and Douglaston.
The committee the FAA has agreed to meet with will only discuss why the agency chose to use what is know as a “categorical exclusion” instead of completing a full environmental review.
“The team will not review the procedure or other flight path changes,” read a statement from the FAA. “As part of the review, the FAA will explain the environmental process it followed to determine that the new procedure would not create significant environmental impacts.”
While the scope of the committee will be limited, elected officials were encouraged by the meeting and are confident the FAA will undertake a good faith, step-by-step review of the process that led to the flight pattern changes.
“We keep taking these small steps moving toward what we want, which is a full reversal of the categorical exclusion and a proper environmental study,” said Avella.
It has not been determined yet who will represent the residents of northeast Queens on the committee, or when the committee will meet with the FAA.
“Honestly, it was difficult to even get the FAA to agree to the committee,” said Meng, who said they with with representatives from the FAA for over an hour. “By the time they agreed to that, we didn't have time to discuss details.”
However, Meng said her office would coordinate with the offices of the other elected officials to keep the FAA to their word.
“Although more still needs to be done, this is a positive move that can hopefully have an effect on the increased airplane noise that Queens residents have been forced to endure,” said Meng
The new procedures are part of a transition to the Next Generation National Air Transportation System, or NextGen. The system relies more on GPS and satellite technology to allow more flights and less delays in and out of both LaGuardia and JFK airports.
The changes have also resulted in a dramatic increase in airplane noise, according to residents of northeast Queens, as the changes mean that planes departing LaGuardia are flying closer to the ground and at a greater frequency and concentration over residential neighborhoods.
The FAA first implemented the changes in February 2012, and after elected officials began receiving complaints about the increased noise, the agency revealed that it was conducting a test of the new flight patterns and that it would end in August.
Shortly thereafter, in December of 2012, the FAA announced the changes would be permanent.
Braunstein said that he didn't he expect the meeting would lead to the FAA reversing its decision, but said the agency's willingness to meet with community representatives is a step in the right direction.
“I didn't expect that we were going to go down there and have the FAA backtrack, but this gives us an additional tool to try and pressure the FAA, as well as let us know where we stand should we go forward with a lawsuit,” he said.
Braunstein said he believes the agency cut corners when arriving at its decision to issue a categorical exclusion, and called the FAA's claims the changes wouldn't result in any significant environmental impact “ridiculous.”
“We believe the FAA wanted to reach a categorical exclusion at the beginning, so they backed their way into that result rather than do an honest assessment,” he said.
A group called Queens Quiet Skies formed over the last few months to mobilize residents and call attention to the issue. Janet McEneaney, one of the group's founders, said she was “gratified” the FAA was willing to meet with the impacted community.
“We'll finally know for sure what happened and why the categorical exclusion was issued,” she said.
McEneaney chooses to believe that the FAA is sincere and will undertake an honest assessment of the review process it used to arrive at its decision.
“If they did something inappropriate, they should be willing to fix it,” she said. “I think they would want to do that.”