Is the Federal Aviation Administration compromising safety and ignoring an agreement to reduce noise pollution in order to maximize efficiency at JFK airport?
Those were the charges residents made at the Oct. 23 meeting of the Town-Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee, held this time in East Williston.
Unlike February’s meeting in Garden City, FAA officials showed up this time but what they had to say brought little comfort to residents rattled by the high volume of noisy planes flying over their homes.
The focus once again was on Runway 22L, which TVASNAC says is getting more than its fair share of traffic. It got 44 percent of all arrivals in August for instance, according to Ray Gaudio, East Williston’s TVASNAC rep.
Mary-Grace Tomecki, Floral Park's representative, said the Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach for Runway 22L was used for 47 hours straight between Aug. 10 and Aug. 11, 42 hours between Aug. 3 and Aug. 5, and with the exception of a 30-minute break, for 52 hours straight between Oct. 13 and Oct. 15. Arrivals using this approach fly over homes in Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Elmont and East Hills.
"When we speak about equitable distribution of air traffic, we are not just talking about runway usage but also varying the routes as well to give communities some reprieve," Tomecki told FAA officials.
Claude Viera, FAA operations manager of JFK Tower, said fog may have required them to use the ILS approach. However, without specific information about the weather conditions, runway availability and configurations of surrounding airports on those dates, officials could not comment.
"They are cramming them in for profits! Let's speak the truth!" one unidentified man shouted.
He was not alone in alleging that “operational efficiency” was being put before safety and noise abatement. One resident played a recording of a recent conversation between a pilot and an air traffic controller at JFK. In the clip, the pilot asks to land on Runway 31R, where the wind conditions were more favorable, but was told he had to land on 22L, where there was a cross-wind he would have preferred to avoid.
FAA officials emphatically denied that safety was being compromised, but Robert Jaffe, FAA aviation safety inspector for the eastern region, did concede that Runway 22L was favored by air traffic controllers.
“Yes, the use of 22L is high,” he admitted. “It's one of the go-to runways for us … for efficiency."
When asked what could be done to bring relief to residents living under approaches that are getting bombarded, Jeffrey Clarke, senior manager of the FAA’s eastern region, stated, "I don't know."
"If we move it from here, we will impact someone else," he said. “I really, really wish I had a magic answer for you … I'd like to sit in my backyard and not hear the planes ... If I had a plan I'd have put it in place already."
Clarke said the problem is the air space in New York is complex and limited since it is shared by three major airports.
“We have not thrown our arms up in defeat though,” Clarke assured residents. “We keep looking for ways to tweak.” For instance, he’s asked TRACON’s new manager to look at bringing some relief to residents on weekends similar to how they have been distributing the noise on the overnight shift.
But when asked by New Hyde Park TVASNAC rep Kurt Langjahr if the JFK “Tower Letter,” a signed agreement that states runways be rotated every eight hours to distribute noise, was still in effect, Clarke said, “No.”
“That letter is outdated,” he stated. “We've taken steps to move [it] out.”