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Boro residents slam proposal to add runways

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Kelsey Durham

Northeast Queens residents fighting for quieter skies around New York City’s major airports are butting heads with the Global Gateway Alliance over suggestions that building more runways will help to improve and modernize the overcrowded facilities.

Advocates across the city fear that adding more runways will only lead to an increase in air traffic and worsen the noise issue that many community groups say is causing the quality of life to deteriorate for those who live near LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports.

Jeffrey Starin, a former pilot and a member of Prospect Park Quiet Skies in Brooklyn, has seen the congestion first-hand, but he said there are other solutions to be found that would avoid extending runways or building additional ones. He said he does not believe it is realistic to try and bring more traffic into already crowded airports.

“You can only squeeze so many planes into a given area,” he said. “I don’t believe you can expand it in any way to accommodate more aircraft. If you’re going to build another runway, you’re going to have a major riot on your hands because people are fed up.”

But Stephen Sigmund, executive director of the Global Gateway Alliance, an air travel advocacy group, said he is confident runway expansions will help to alleviate some of the problems, even if this approach does lead to additional traffic. He said the project, coupled with the NextGen plan to replace planes’ GPS with satellite systems, will reduce delays on crowded runways and therefore decrease unnecessary noise from planes circling above them.

“The short version is yes, it means more planes, but it’s a little more complicated than that,” Sigmund said.

He said the Federal Aviation Administration places a cap on the number of planes that can go in and out of New York’s airports per hour, and in order for more flights to occur, that cap would have to be lifted. By creating additional runway space, Sigmund said it would reduce the congestion in New York’s airports that he said currently causes more than half of the delays on flights across the country every day.

Starin said he and many other city residents doubt that there is much room for expansion, but Sigmund said he believes NextGen is a realistic solution that could take place in the near future.

With LaGuardia so close to capacity, the alliance has suggested extending its two runways, while JFK could build new airstrips by extending them into the water, though Sigmund said that project would be a much bigger undertaking. Newark could be built out westward toward the Jersey Turnpike, he said.

Sigmund also said that updates such as extra runways would help improve the overall state of LaGuardia, which was recently named America’s second worst airport by Travel & Leisure magazine after taking the No. 1 spot the year before.

The Port Authority could not be reached for comment about LaGuardia and the suggested runway expansion.

Susan Carroll, a Flushing resident pushing for quieter skies in her area, hears planes fly over her neighborhood at a constant pace, but she does not believe expansion is the solution.

“It’s horrendous and disgusting that there’s a group out there that thinks it’s OK to add more runways,” she said. “Where? I don’t understand that. I understand the congestion in New York, but the way to resolve it should not be on the backs of the hardworking, taxpaying residents.”

Members of Quiet Skies have begun discussing strategies to counter the strong political influence they say the Global Gateway Alliance has, even suggesting holding a public rally to gain awareness for their side of the issue. Despite the disagreement, Sigmund said the alliance understands the concerns of people who live in the area but contends the suggested changes to New York’s airports are much-needed.

“We recognize and certainly sympathize with the people who have to live day-to-day with the crowded airports, but we do think it’s necessary to move forward with these initiatives in order to improve them,” Sigmund said.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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