By Philip Newman
Deputy Mayor Anthony Coles and Port Authority Aviation Director William DeCota offered opposing viewpoints on the mayor's demand that the Port Authority give up operation of the airports before the agency's lease expires in 2015.
More than 150 people attended the meeting in The Hangar of the College of Aeronautics in Flushing sponsored by the Queens Civic Congress, the umbrella organization taking in nearly 100 civic and community groups in Queens.
Before it considered the airport question, the Queens Civic Congress voted to support the Metropolitan Transportation Authority East Side Access proposal, including the new V subway line to relieve crowding on the E and F lines. But the congress opposed the use of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which has been proposed as part of New York City's bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2012.
Coles told the meeting the Port Authority must be replaced because he contended that under the agency administered jointly by New York and New Jersey “LaGuardia and Kennedy are an embarrassment to New York City.
“Out of 36 airports surveyed, LaGuardia comes in 31st and JFK 35th,” Coles said, adding that another survey of international airports by the International Air Transport Association lists JFK 59th among 65 airports worldwide.
Furthermore, Coles said, the Port Authority is not accountable to anyone and cannot be fired for poor performance as a private company could.
“New York City is the leading city of the world, but our airports are not at that level, unfortunately,” Coles said.
The Giuliani administration has been negotiating with BAA-USA, a British company, to take over the two airports when the lease expires. David Roberts, who runs the Indianapolis airport for BAA-USA, spoke about the company's operations in Britain and the United States.
DeCota accompanied his presentation with color slides showing the mammoth construction work at Kennedy and projects at LaGuardia over the past few years.
He said flights at LaGuardia had been reduced by 16 percent in the past few months following the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to cut back on traffic at the nation's most congested airport.
“I don't plan to carry on a point-counterpoint debate on this matter,” DeCota said. “We don't have the bully pulpit at the PA.”
But he denied the Giuliani administration's claim that the Port Authority has failed to reinvest money effectively and suggested that some of the mayor's information on the PA was misleading and some “simply untrue.”
As to Giuliani's claim of rampant crime at Kennedy, particularly a great increase in stolen cars, DeCota said cars at the airports “are stolen at the rate of one in every 67,000.”
Coles was interrupted at least three times by members of the audience who took issue with his remarks.
Seymour Schwartz, secretary of the Queens Civic Congress, several times admonished those who interrupted during Cole's presentation. Another Queens Civic Congress official warned that those who persisted would be asked to leave the meeting.
At least a dozen members of the audience took advantage of a chance to express their opinions near the close of the meeting. Several objected to the idea of ousting the Port Authority from the airports although some complained about airport nose and pollution.
City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst) said, “I would be very concerned about a British company taking over these airports.”
“You have not demonstrated to us that what you offer to run our airports is any better than what we have,” said Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton, who represents parts of southeast Queens.
Sal Antonucci of Corona asked Coles “why do we need to hire a foreign company to run our airports? Let's have an American company.” His remarks were followed by a burst of applause.
John Early, an official of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America who lives in Richmond Hill, asked Coles whether under BAA-USA the jobs would be “well-paying union jobs or go to workers who are paid less?”
Coles said a city administration would maintain many more jobs, the numbers of which he said had fallen during the Port Authority's tenure.
Early interrupted, saying “you have not answered my question. Will these be union jobs?”
Several members of the audience shouted “answer his question.”
Finally, BAA-USA's David Roberts was brought to the podium to explain that workers for his company in Britain were generally union members while in the United States some were represented by unions and some were not.
Early walked out of the meeting during Roberts' remarks.
The list of officials scheduled to speak at the meeting included Thomas Bock, Airspace Redesign project manager for the Federal Aviation Authority. But Schwartz said the Queens Civic Congress had learned that the FAA had forbade Bock to attend the meeting.