Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

Baysiders never stopped speaking up about unprecedented airplane noise over northeast Queens, and the Federal Aviation Administration showed they were heard when it agreed to include them in its decision-making, lawmakers said.

With help from borough leaders on the state and federal levels, the FAA announced it would form a committee to conduct what it called a good faith, step-by-step review of its decision-making process when approving new flight patterns over Queens. Public officials met with FAA reps in Washington last week after pushing for more voices at the table, but little progress was made.

State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) said lawmakers’ biggest push against the agency was to have it justify its decision to implement a categorical exclusion, allowing the FAA to make new controversial flight patterns permanent without soliciting public input.

“We expressed our opinions, and they talked us around in circles while offering their own justifications,” said Braunstein, one of several elected officials leading the charge. “We’re trying to argue that they should at least go back and review whether or not there is a significant impact in our communities.”

Braunstein and his colleagues in government have been pressing the FAA for the better part of the last year, demanding answers as to why constituents have been reporting a spike in airliner noise going into and coming out of LaGuardia Airport. The FAA has gone on record saying new flight patterns were initially put into effect in February 2012 for a six-month trial basis before making the routes permanent in December.

After months of rallying, the FAA eventually met face-to-face with residents of northeast Queens in a town hall forum at Bay Terrace Jewish Center earlier this year. The meeting became contentious at times, but left few questions answered — spurring the elected officials to arrange another sit-down with the agency.

“Agreeing to work with the community to review the new flight patterns, and taking another look at the environmental assessment process in the step-by-step process we urged, is a move in the right direction,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing). “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.”

In the elected officials’ meeting last week with the FAA, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) suggested the agency gather its lawyers and meet with experts of northeast Queens — including members of activist group Queens Quiet Skies — to fully assess the decision-making process. Groups like Queens Quiet Skies have been working closely with borough officials, as well as a CUNY Law School class, to punch holes in the legality of the FAA’s decision to implement new routes without public input.

“Residents of Queens deserve to live without the constant barrage of airplane noise that they’ve experienced since the FAA approved new flight patterns without taking into account community feedback,” Israel said. “I hope [the meeting] results in a more balanced plan that will alleviate the noise pollution for our constituents.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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