“Enough is enough!” they chanted.
Fed up with what many described as repeated aerial assaults on their quality of life, a crowd of Queens residents rallied in Cunningham Park Sunday against what they see as the Port Authority and Federal Aviation Administration’s lackluster response to airplane noise and pollution.
“No one here has to imagine how it feels, including our elected officials, to wake up every Saturday or Sunday morning to the sound of an airplane,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing). “No one here has to imagine how it feels to send our kids and our grandkids to schools where the class is actually shaking because of airplane noise. No one here has to imagine how it feels to be in the park and try to enjoy a nice day, but we can’t have a conversation and we can’t hear each other.”
Barbara Brown, chairwoman of the Eastern Queens Alliance, spoke for the residents of Southeast Queens near Kennedy Airport, where the “landing gears are almost skating across the roofs of people’s homes.
“People are reporting that they’re waking up in the middle of the night with a plane that has been flying so low that they think the plane is going to crash into their home,” Brown said. “They wake up with their hearts palpitating and scared for their lives.
“The FAA tells us their main concern is safety in the air,” she added. “That’s a main concern of ours too. You cannot exchange health and safety on the ground for health and safety in the air.”
Borough President Melinda Katz pointed out the problems aren’t new: “We have been fighting this fight for decades.”
However, the implementation of new flight procedures and NextGen technology, which incorporates GPS navigation to enable planes to fly in set paths so that the airlines can maximize efficiency, have led to more frequent takeoffs and landings of larger aircrafts flying at lower altitudes over densely populated residential areas.
Many of the grievances revolve around a takeoff procedure at LaGuardia that puts planes at half their former altitudes, sometimes as frequently as 20 seconds apart.
“It’s just mind-boggling that the FAA thinks this is something that’s appropriate,” said Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside). “When people bought their homes in Northeast Queens, they knew that they lived near an airport, but they never expected they were going to hear noise like this.”
Last November, Gov. Cuomo ordered the Port Authority to establish an aviation roundtable, conduct a study of the noise impact and find ways to mitigate them. The leadership of Queens Quiet Skies is unhappy with it as well as the PA splitting it up to create one for each airport.
Janet McEneaney and Bob Whitehair, president and vice president of the organization, respectively, say it is the wrong way to proceed because the airspace is connected and all parties must work together to find solutions.
The PA has hired consultants and established a noise office to oversee the study, but Queens Quiet Skies is angry about not having any input.
Elpida and Tiffany Hatzidimitriu, students at MS 158 in Bayside, carried a sign stating “I can’t hear my teacher.” Elpida, a sixth-grader, said that her first-period math class is frequently interrupted so her teacher has to talk louder or stops until the planes pass.
A recently released study from Harvard, funded by the FAA, confirms that elderly individuals who live along the noisiest flight paths near airports have a higher risk of being admitted to the hospital for cardiac disease. Six million people living close to 55 airports were studied. Fifty percent of hospitalizations in those areas were for cardiovascular problems.
“What about the pollution?” Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) asked. “What about flying over communities and the risk of planes landing in our backyards?”
Joe Brostek from the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association said that sometimes he can smell jet fuel as it settles over the community and noted that the lake in Bowne Park, home to fish and turtles, is being tested for particulate matter from jet fuel.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) assured her constituents that they are “not alone in this fight to improve our everyday living conditions.”
She has worked with Rep. Steve Israel (D-Suffolk, Nassau, Queens) to convince the FAA to conduct a comprehensive noise study of the entire New York City metropolitan area, which will begin in January.
“This change would provide relief to many people in our communities and across the nation,” Meng said. “More people would be eligible for noise mitigation funding at their house or the FAA would have to put more emphasis on noise than on profiting the airlines.”