Photo by Christina Santucci
By Kelsey Durham

Advocates fighting to reduce airplane noise in Queens were not surprised to hear news from the Port Authority last week announcing that a record number of passengers came through New York’s and New Jersey’s major airports in 2013.

In a release from the Port Authority Jan. 13, the organization said that last year about 111.6 million passengers flew through four of the area’s major airports — JFK, Newark, LaGuardia and Stewart — breaking the previous record set in 2007 by more than 1.5 million travellers.

John F. Kennedy International also set individual records in 2013 for the most international passengers as well as total passengers, and LaGuardia broke its own record for international passengers as well, according to the release.

The news comes amid changes implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration and by Airspace Redesign, an FAA project aimed toward changing flight paths in hopes of opening up congested airspace to allow for an increased number of flights to come in and out of major airports.

For several northeast Queens residents bothered by added noise resulting from the increased air traffic, the Port Authority’s most recent set of record traffic numbers adds merit to their complaints.

“We’re not surprised at all, but I don’t know if it’s something for us to celebrate,” said Janet McEneaney, president of the Queens Quiet Skies group. “It’s great for business, but I’m not so sure how great it is for New York City.”

Since the implementation of the flight path changes, residents say the increased noise from airplanes flying over Queens neighborhoods has contributed to a deteriorating quality of life and is now contributing to lower property values and homeowners moving out of the area.

In November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered JFK and LaGuardia to conduct a noise study, known as a Part 150 study, saying he recognize the problem airplane noise has created for people who live near the metropolitan area’s major airports. So far, McEneaney said she believes planning for the study is under way but has not seen any confirmation on when or how it will be taking place.

“It’s my understanding that they’re moving forward, but we would like to see them actually do it,” she said. “I think it would be beneficial for the people to see something.”

The Queens Quiet Skies group has also been pushing for a member of its organization to be named to the NextGen committee, which will oversee changes to air traffic control from GPS to satellite, in order to be sure the community is represented. One of the major problems the Quiet Skies group sees in changes that have been made so far, McEneaney said, is that the community directly affected currently has no say in the decision-making process.

McEneaney said her group has written multiple letters requesting that they allow a member of Queens Quiet Skies to join the committee but has not yet gotten a response. She said after reaching out to the advisory council that runs NextGen, she learned that the committee’s members are suggested by the FAA, and residents fear that their representation is heavily outweighed by members affiliated with the federal agency.

“The planning is not transparent and the people paying for it are being left out,” McEneaney said. “Everybody gets to benefit but us. If it’s not us, it should be some community group with representation.”

Representatives from the FAA and NextGen could not be reached for comment as Washington offices were closed Monday to observe a holiday and Tuesday due to winter weather.

Some of New York’s elected officials, including Cuomo, have gotten behind residents who are fighting the noise and McEneaney praised the work they have done to try and push legislation and awareness about the issue. Now, advocacy groups are awaiting the next move on the Part 150 study and hope to soon have solutions to some of their major concerns.

“I have faith in our elected officials and I think they understand that their constituents just want to have a decent quality of life,” McEneaney said. “What we have is our votes and we’re not going to vote for people who support this kind of mindless expansion.”

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

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