The Republic Airport Commission is scheduled to vote on a resolution to widen the distance between Taxiway B and Runway 1/19 from 200 to 400 feet in order to more safely accommodate aircraft wingspans on the ground.
According to Gary Lewi, a spokesperson for the Farmingdale-based Republic Airport, the taxiway relocation would give two simultaneously taxiing aircraft greater wing clearance, permitting a safer handling on the ground.
This $7 million project was recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration. Originally addressed in 2000, Lewi said the FAA recently sent Republic Airport Commission a memorandum stating "you need to make this a first priority in your safety program."
"What we are proposing would permit safer ground handling of aircraft," Lewi explained. "What has happened over time is that corporate jets have been able to extend their range. In order to be able to achieve those ranges, it requires longer wingspans. These aircraft are already operating in Republic Airport and have for some time."
While safety may be the airport's only vocalized agenda for widening the taxiway, activist groups such as the Woodlands Civic Association in Farmingdale and Concerned Citizens of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Community see this as a way for the airport to avoid operational delays. Public meetings held in July 2000 October 2004 resulted in numerous residents and civic organizations expressing opposition of this taxiway relocation proposal.
A flier distributed by the Concerned Citizens of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Community states "Republic must accept all types of aircraft it has the ability to handle. If both runways can accommodate large aircraft, the airport's ability to provide scheduled services is enhanced. The surest way to control the future use of Republic Airport is to limit the size of the facilities."
Lewi has a differing opinion on the airport's frequency of use.
"The market is what sets the tempo and tone of how many aircraft come in," Lewi explained. "If you have the US Open, you are going to see more corporate jets come in. If the economy turns down and corporate America has no interest in Long Island, less will come in."
Farmingdale resident and co-chairperson of the Woodlands Civic Association's Republic Airport Committee Helen Norjen disagrees that business will continue as usual at Republic Airport if the taxiway relocation is approved. The proposal's unapproved master plan, according to Norjen, states the reason for the taxiway relocation was to allow for wingtip clearance of Category III [the noisiest] planes.
"They never went to Category III planes, so why are we planning for planes that shouldn't be in the airport in the first place?" Norjen said.
Airport Manager Mike Geiger added that Category III planes have been operating in and out of Republic Airport since at least the 1990s.
RAC Chairman Frank Nocerino added that there is no master plan and the airport isn't required to have one. He also said that the runway length will remain the same.
"It's just shifting the runway so that there is a runoff on each side," Nocerino explained.
Nocerino, a North Massapequa resident himself, said Farmingdale residents should be happy with this proposal.
"This will give an opportunity to take some relief off of Farmingdale," Nocerino said. "Right now the preferential runway is 14/32. This will make 1/19 accessible to use."
Norjen has addressed the RAC on several occasions and has written to the FAA, questioning an airport layout plan that was approved.
"Once you have two runways that can handle the big planes, it's going to be a different situation at Republic Airport," Norjen said.
However, having her opinion heard by airport officials has proven to be a daunting task. According to Norjen, she hasn't received an answer to several questions, including whether or not the public can speak before the vote.
"We want them to silence the planes, instead of the people," Norjen said. "I want them to go through a full environmental impact statement and a new honest, realistic, factual master plan."
Geiger said he doesn't anticipate an environmental impact statement completed because this is a safety project.
"Part of what the resolution involves is that we are asking the FAA to fund the design and that would include any environmental work that needs to be done," Geiger said.
While the airport is a state run entity and the public has no direct say in the final decision, Lewi said the RAC is interested in hearing out local residents.
"We want to hear from the public in regard to what the airport is proposing and how the airport proposes it," Lewi said.
"We had a discussion on it already," Nocerino added. "I am contemplating what I am going to. I have to talk to the commission."
Nassau County Legislator Dave Mejias has also been sending letters to the RAC, asking them to put off a vote until they get community input and we can come up with a valid plan for the airport.
"At the last meeting they said they were not going to take any public input, they were just going to push the vote through," Mejias said.
Mejias, along with Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone, will be holding a press conference at 6 p.m. on June 14, before the vote that day. He is asking community members to attend and voice their opinion to the RAC.
"We all realize the we bought homes near a small, commuter airport, but we did not sign up for LaGuardia or JFK," the North Massapequa resident said.
However, Lewi reiterated that safety is the sole reason behind the taxi relocation project.
"This is not about increased frequency or introducing new, larger aircraft," Lewi said. "This is not about bringing in airline service into Republic Airport. This is about ground safety."
"We're a general aviation airport, we're never going to be a commercial airport and we're limited to what can be there," assured Nocerino. "We're not going to do anything as the Airport Commission that is going to jeopardize the quality of life of where we live - I live in the community."
In addition, Lewi said the airport management team makes a concerted effort to engage and involve the local community and to create regulations that seek to protect residents' quality of life.
"We are aggressive in attempting to enforce and implement noise abatement procedures," he explained. "That being said, it remains an airport, one of the busiest airports in New York and it represents an enormous economic asset to this region. We are constantly trying to find those ways of protecting the quality of life of our neighbors at the same time operating a safe and efficient airport for the public and those who regularly fly in and out of Republic Airport."
The RAC vote is merely a recommendation, in terms of whether or not this proposal should go further. The RAC will vote at their next meeting on June 14. The New York State Department of Transportation will also be present at the meeting. DOT then brings the plans to the FAA, who, Lewi said, "has already committed to spending the money."
"The FAA would have to sign off on taxiway relocations so that it meets their safety specifications," Lewi explained. "The safety specifications want to see a widened taxiway in order to be able to safely taxi aircraft currently using Republic Airport."
Should the RAC vote this resolution through, there will a public input session on the next level.
Lewi also mentioned that controversy has always surrounded airports in all residential areas.
"Since 1927 this site has been in continuing aviation use," Lewi said. "Like every other airport and aviation use around the country, there have always been proponents and there have always been critics."
The next Republic Airport Commission Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 14 at 7 p.m. in the Republic Airport Administration Building, on Route 110 in East Farmingdale. For more information call 631-752-7707 or visit www.republicairport.net.