Thursday, March 21, 2013

Federal Aviation Administration reps take heat at plane noise meet - Northeast Queens, New York

After meeting face-to-face with the Federal Aviation Administration, residents and elected officials of northeast Queens mulled over their next move to silence airliner noise above their homes, which could include legal action.

Nearly 100 community leaders and homeowners packed the Bay Terrace Jewish Center last Thursday night in the latest chapter of an ongoing battle with the FAA to address what they called an unannounced and unbearable rise in plane traffic in Bayside, Douglaston and Whitestone. Though officials admitted little headway was made on the core issues, the groundwork was set for a greater dialogue with the federal agency through future roundtable discussions or legal actions if necessary.

“I think the community realized that the FAA comes up with these very technical terms, but they basically do whatever they want,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who helped plan the meeting. “We have to show them: not in Queens anymore. We are going to question them and if we have to use legal grounds, we will.”

The FAA did not respond to calls seeking comment on the meeting.

Avella said he already met twice with FAA officials alongside state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) at its headquarters in Jamaica, and last Thursday’s town hall mostly reiterated information he already had heard. But what was important, elected officials said, was getting the agency on the record with the residents of northeast Queens.

“What they were showing us was not new,” Braunstein said. “I think what we did do was put pressure on the FAA to find out why they didn’t make efforts to communicate with the community and lay the groundwork for legal action.”

An entire class of CUNY law students, under the guidance of professor Rebecca Bratspies, attended the meeting because it has undertaken the FAA fight as its spring project.

When addressing FAA reps, Bratspies raised the same suspicion that Avella, Braunstein and several others had, suggesting the noise stemmed from the airline industry’s influence on increasing traffic and profits. FAA reps, including Eastern Regional Administrator Carmine Gallo, consistently denied that claim and said the ultimate goal was to reduce delays and fuel costs.

“The FAA’s responsibility is the safe, efficient and secure operation of aircraft,” Gallo said. “We don’t make any money from the airlines. I’m a federal employee and we are here to service the federal government, the Department of Transportation, as well as the White House.”

Gallo said the concerns over flight noise came from an official FAA testing period from February to August of last year so the agency could gather data. During that testing period, Gallo said the FAA used the Tnnis — pronounced “tennis” — Climb departure path, which stretches over northeast Queens, to test a new satellite navigation system known as NextGen so planes follow a tighter path and become more predictable.

Much to the community’s dismay, the agency admitted in previous meetings with borough officials that there were no adverse effects from the test, freeing themselves from the task of soliciting local input.

“We never anticipated during the test the impact that it would have on the community,” Gallo said.

Nonetheless, Avella said northeast Queens was finally heard in ways it should have been before any changes were ever implemented, setting the stage for future meetings with the FAA and challenging the agency to what he consistently referred to as the fight of its life.

“We have been taken for granted, and that’s going to stop,” Avella said.

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