South Queens is no stranger to the screaming sounds of airplane engines hurtling metal tubes filled with throngs of people through the air.
The flight paths into and out of JFK Airport are familiar: the landings that carry low-flying planes over Howard Beach or Rosedale, zipping over cars on the Belt Parkway, and the takeoff routes that bring screeching jet engines over Charles Park in Howard Beach or Rockaway Beach.
So it came as a surprise to some residents of Woodhaven and Ozone Park when landing planes suddenly flew low over their neighborhoods during recent rainstorms.
The strange flight patterns are not really unusual. Some longtime residents note that landing jets have been buzzing Woodhaven and Ozone Park rooftops during rainstorms for several decades.
But this past spring, it seemed to some to be happening more often than normal, which has to do with work at the airport.
Typically, flights landing at Runway 13L, the northernmost of the two east/west runways, take a route approaching the airport from the southwest, flying over Coney Island and along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. This route, called the Canarsie Approach, is the one that takes landing planes low over Howard Beach and South Ozone Park — a flight path familiar to South Queens residents.
But in heavy fog and high winds, planes are forced to land at the runway under a procedure in which pilots use the planes’ Instrument Landing System — in which a radio signal released from the ground directs pilots to the runway in lieu of visual landmarks.
Runway 13L has ILS — one of only two at the airport that does — and is also equipped with Touch Down Zone lights, which illuminate the center of the runway where planes land. That makes the 10,000-foot runway, one of four at the airport, viable for landings with as little as half a mile of visibility.
But pilots using ILS must line the plane up with the runway long before touchdown. Using the Canarsie Approach, planes do not line up with runway 13L until less than a mile before landing, evident by the sharp right turns jets make over South Ozone Park while landing.
According to Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, when using ILS, planes have to line up much earlier, requiring them to follow a path that takes them over North Brooklyn, Woodhaven and Ozone Park.
Peters said during storms in the past month, planes have been using the ILS approach to runway 13L more often due to work being done at runway 22L, the other ILS route into the airport, which is the one that takes planes low over Laurelton and Rosedale.
“During recent bad weather, flights landed on Runway 13 Left at JFK using its ILS,” Peters said in an email on May 28. “Runway 22 Left was not available for landing aircraft during that time because FAA technicians were repairing its approach lights, which are part of the ILS. The work was completed last week, and the lights are back in service.”