Fight for More Equitable Distribution of Air Traffic
It was, by any measure, a snowball effect, a squall in late summer that gathered steady momentum until it erupted into a media storm of sorts. The TVASNAC (Town-Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee) advocacy group, meeting for the first time ever in Floral Park, had all the earmarks that this would not be business as usual.
Media outlets hungering for something different picked up the scent of something important shifting in the wind. Indeed, something was in fact happening, and rapidly. The fault line of tolerance for aircraft traffic noise, at times interminable and intolerable, had been ruptured and in its wake a flurried disturbance, a restless energy, a gesture of defiance had been tapped. The commotion was palpable enough for the New York Times, the Old Gray Lady, to devote the front page of their Sunday Edition of the Long Island Regional News Section to the story; Cablevision's News 12, Channel 55 as well as the local weeklies percolated with the breaking news.
At the center of the agitation, the fuss, the bother was that the distribution of air traffic over our village is not fair, it is not reasonable, it is, in fact, just plain wrong. This wasn't the first time such objections had been raised but the voice of the village board, buttressed by our residents, was determined, persistent and irrevocably committed to a more equitable configuration of air traffic. What made this meeting in Floral Park so newsworthy was that this time we were not going to the TVASNAC Mountain; the immovable mountain was coming to us.
Never before had this committee (which often has members from the FAA and the JFK Control Tower in attendance) met outside the comfortable confines of the Village of Lawrence with, at most, a handful of people in the audience. But now, in a sense, they had no choice. With sweep and power, they had been summoned to the other side of America's largest township, drawn to the epicenter of our village, right at the seat of local government, before the tribunal of public opinion.
On Monday evening, Aug. 28, in a village court room and before more people than had ever attended a TVASNAC meeting, we were treated, courtesy of an Internet connection, to the Aviation Development Council website providing a special link to PASSUR airport monitor for flight tracking. From this connection, we were able to track jets that fly over our community 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Crossing Floral Park at any given time are jets from JFK, LaGuardia, Newark or Teterboro airports, all of which are under the jurisdiction of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority. When you add this air traffic with that of Boston, Islip and Philadelphia, you get some idea why this area has some of the busiest air space in the world.
It is important to understand that while the village board has been at the forefront to voice the concerns of our residents, it is the federal authorities that are solely responsible for this excessive air traffic and its ultimate resolution rests in their jurisdiction. While local village, town, county and state elected representatives can provide a strong support, concerned citizens and officials must focus particular attention on their elected federal representatives in Washington, D.C. who have the leverage to cut through the layers of federal bureaucracy that has been such a source of frustration.
What is clearly required are more energetic actions by our federal representatives to spotlight this issue. While federal officials cannot change where JFK, LaGuardia, Newark and where the heliports (for helicopter traffic) are located, a more honest effort could be harnessed to find within the problem the seeds of its solution. But, still something needed to be said; something had to be done.
After the presentation, I was asked to make a statement. I made the following points:
1. That although our crowded air space explains the significant number of flights over Floral Park, it cannot account for the sometimes endless stream of jets flying over our community. At some periods over the summer, it appeared as if all of the arrival traffic was using Runway 22L into Kennedy and a grossly disproportionate number of these arrivals utilized the ILS approach (instruments only), which brings the air traffic directly over Floral Park. There appeared to be very little distribution of this traffic utilizing alternate approaches, which would bring the air traffic slightly to the east of Floral Park.
We in Floral Park are especially frustrated about the continual use of the Instrument approach use because the village board, working with Congresswoman McCarthy, rescinded a paragraph from TRACON's Standard Operating Procedure that authorized an instrument approach (irrespective of weather conditions) between 10 and 2 p.m. - a 16-hour interval in which the entire burden of aircraft traffic would be shouldered by Floral Park, New Hyde Park and Elmont.
In light of the above, I emphasized what is on paper is not put in practice and we are demanding that TVASNAC find out why this is the case. I further noted that the improved lighting system on Runway 22 clearly obviated any need whatsoever for a continual instrument approach. A studious observance of what we had worked so hard to rescind would have the desired result of more equitably distributing aircraft traffic so that no one community, or set of communities, would bear a disproportionate share of the burden. Unfortunately, what was put on paper is not put in practice and we implored the members of TVASNAC to find out why.
Partly as a result of this disappointment and partly to build on our past efforts, I again requested from TVASNAC the compilation of data on which approaches are selected on Runway 22. We are seeking not only raw numbers as to how many times the instrument approach was used versus alternate approaches in a given period, but also why the instrument approach was chosen over other approaches since even when visibility is clear, many times the instrument approach will continue to be used. We believe that air traffic will be more evenly distributed if those responsible for making the selection know that the information is being tracked on a systemized basis. Second, it gives us an objective criterion which to gauge the distribution of air traffic. And, finally, it gives us the ability to explain to our residents more precisely how much air traffic we are receiving and why the instrument approach is being used on certain days.
I stated that in the interest of good government, that TVASNAC meetings should not only be held in the Village of Lawrence, but also in places like Floral Park, Garden City, Stewart Manor, New Hyde Park and other places impacted by an inordinate amount of air traffic.
This was followed by a lively question and answer session with residents and others. I thought it was a productive exchange and it yielded the following information:
... That the major runway construction (delayed by a labor strike) causing a shift of aircraft to those runways that directly affects Floral Park will come to an end sometime in September. This eventuality, we were told, will result in a diminution of jets flying over our village providing some measure of relief.
... Due to the many complaints about helicopter traffic, Heinz Graumann, director of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, stated he would make serious efforts to re-route the helicopter traffic now flying over the north and south shores away from Floral Park. Graumann sought to underscore his sincerity by providing a phone number that he can be directly reached if you wish to complain about helicopter traffic. Here is the number - (215) 321-9120. The next meeting of the council will be in Morristown in late September. We'll be there.
... TVASNAC Chairman Ken Lampkin said he will attempt to ascertain the data we requested regarding how many times the instrument approach was used and why. He also stated that he will be rotating the TVASNAC meeting and that the committee will revisit Floral Park.
How much of what was said will actually happen is anybody's guess. Certainly we've been let down in the past. I suppose we could be mindful of the witticism that, "Blessed are those who have no expectations --- they shall never be disappointed."
But I think such an attitude, despite the past, is overly negative. With the northeastern United States air space corridor so heavily trafficked, and JFK airport seven miles from Floral Park, aircraft traffic is indeed inevitable. Nevertheless, I do think there is a reasonable chance for a decrease of these flights over our village and affording us some measure of relief and tranquility. TVASNAC would not have met in our backyard if our voices, our concerns and our solicitations had not resonated.
No one, of course, can foretell the future. But on Monday evening, we showed, as we've shown at other times and in other places, that in the life of any community there is a time to stand. Whether we are confronting a sports stadium being built in Belmont, a third track being constructed across the heart of Floral Park or jet noise roaring over the village, our community will never go along to get along. We might not win every battle, but we will not be deluded, we will not be dragooned, we will not be bullied, we will not be an indifferent bystander, a casual observer or a silent witness. A fighting spirit, said George Washington, counts in every age.
I conclude, as I did at the meeting, by thanking TVASNAC for coming to our village and listening to our concerns. But I also expressed the hope, if not the confidence, that the heartfelt sentiments of our residents will act as a switchboard, a transformer that channels ideas into actions leading to a more just and lasting distribution of the burden of air traffic.