Written by Debora Toth Friday, 21 August 2009 00:00
While a local assemblyman’s proposed legislation to reduce jet noise at Republic Airport in Farmingdale is moving through the New York State legislature, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is studying new airplane routes for the region that could possibly lower the height requirements for jet aircraft and possibly produce more jet noise in Republic’s surrounding neighborhoods including Farmingdale.
An internal ad-hoc user report document from the FAA obtained by Robert Belzer, president of the New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise (NJCAAN), describes how a proposed Class B airspace realignment plan would shift westbound departure traffic at Republic Airport in an effort to expand the number of westbound gates at the three major New York City airports (Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty). Class B Airspace is generally the airspace from the surface to 10,000 feet. This airspace is normally around the busiest airports in terms of aircraft traffic.
In the report, it states, “Currently, planes leaving or arriving at FRG (Republic Airport) can fly up to 4,000 feet MSL (mean sea level) when VFR (visual flight rules). Under this new proposal, they would have to fly below 2,500 feet MSL. This will result in more noise complaints from the communities around the airport.”
The internal FAA report continues, “The two main issues likely to be raised by the communities living around our airports will be safety and noise. “Less safety and more noise” will not go over well in any of our communities; especially with those residents who are already being impacted by aircraft noise. Some of these residents will surely be displeased and incensed over this new proposal. This is certain to make for negative press coverage and editorials once this makes the local newspapers and televised media. Also, it can be expected that some of our local, state and federal elected officials will come out opposed to this plan and will fight against this proposal for their communities and constituents.”
“The internal report is speculative in that the FAA has yet to release the portion of its airspace plan to the public or to members of Congress who exercise oversight of the FAA,” said Frank Petrone, Town of Huntington Supervisor. “I would also venture that VFR air traffic generally is about to come under greater scrutiny as a result of this weekend’s tragic mid-air collision between a private Cessna aircraft and a NYC sightseeing helicopter over the Hudson River. I am forwarding a copy of this letter to our U.S. Congressional representative Steve Israel so he will be aware of our mutual concern about the impact of these rumored changes for Class B airspace, if and when the FAA makes a proposal to Congress.”
When asked to comment about the internal FAA report, Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Steve Israel did not return phone calls.
Arlene Salac, an FAA spokesperson, said, “This is not an official document from the FAA. An ad-hoc committee is studying the redesign of Class B airspace across the country to see how it is working. The Class B airspace parameters were set 30 to 40 years ago and since then traffic has increased dramatically. The ad-hoc committee is a group that we pull together of pilots and other interested parties, who study the Class B airspace and come up with recommendations. There have been some ideas to lower the level. We don’t sit on the committee. The committee makes proposals and we study them. No actions have been taken.”
A spokesman for Republic Airport added, “This appears to be a very preliminary ‘concept plan’ drafted by the FAA for comment and input. The airport is studying this proposal closely as, at some point in the future, it reflects the potential for broad sweeping changes in how the FAA routes air traffic throughout the New York metro area. Under this FAA concept airports throughout the region would be affected as the federal agency seeks to address those issues created by their need to manage national and international air traffic bound for New York. Accordingly, there needs to be a comprehensive review of what their options are, how would they impact the various interested parties and what are the FAA’s alternative scenarios.”
However, residents who reside near the airport were not pleased. “I am very upset and aggravated by these developments,” says Thomas H. Joseph, Jr., president of the East Farmingdale Civic Association. “We have been misled by airport management on numerous occasions. These recent developments are never brought to the attention of the community. Constantly, they never notify us on issues, such as this, that will have an impact on the community.”
As for these new policies that will impact noise at Republic Airport, Joseph said, “The airport will do whatever they want to do without considering the community. There is a noise abatement policy, but it is only voluntary. Many residents could tell you how many times they have been woken up at 3 or 4 a.m. by the noise of a jet engine. A jet engine that should not even be running as per the noise abatement policy. Now, according to the information [from the internal ad-hoc committee], the noise may increase. We have pleaded with Republic Airport to strictly enforce the noise abatement policy and still we are never heard. We have helicopters that do not follow a specific flight pattern, flying directly over our homes. We have planes that fly directly over homes during landings and take-offs by student pilots, and these homes are not in line with the runway. What has the airport management done? Nothing to our knowledge. They have never come to us and apologized. They have never written us letters telling us they will try and make conditions better. I am never surprised by new policies of the airport that impact our community negatively. I would be surprised if the airport decided they would do something to better the community and improve conditions in our area. Will it happen? I do not think so.”
In the meantime, Assemblyman James Conte (10th District) has put forth a number of pieces of legislation to limit the size and scope of Republic Airport. All of his legislation passed the Assembly in early June and is awaiting consideration in the transportation committee. Assembly Bill A7153 authorizes and directs the Department of Transportation to prepare a report on noise abatement procedures at certain heliports and airports in Suffolk County including Republic Airport. Assembly Bill A05160 directs the commissioner of transportation to complete a master plan for Republic Airport and institute a moratorium on building and expansion before the master plan is adopted.
Assembly Bill A05161 asks to add the town supervisors of Babylon, Huntington, and Oyster Bay as ex officio members of the Republic Airport Commission. The three towns that surround Republic Airport–Babylon, Huntington and Oyster Bay - have had major questions concerning its expansion and planned improvements. A Master Plan has been called for, but not produced, says the bill, with regard to the overall vision for Republic Airport and its future. Having the three town supervisors from the Towns of Babylon, Huntington and Oyster Bay as ex officio members of the Republic Airport Commission, will give the people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods a strong voice and watchful eye as to any and all expansions to the airport and their community.
In an effort to give a voice to the school districts surrounding the airport, Assembly Bill A05204 provides for the selection of members of the Republic Airport Commission by the Speaker of the Assembly from the Suffolk County school districts of Half Hollow Hills and Farmingdale.
Conte is also sponsoring legislation to address the community’s concern regarding the continued growth and expansion of Republic Airport, concerns which have prompted the towns of Babylon and Huntington to initiate legal action against the airport.
“I am hopeful that my legislation will make these lawsuits moot, resolve the current situation at Republic Airport, and save taxpayers money all while lowering noise levels from air traffic, while lessening the airport’s impact on their neighbors,” said Conte. “The legislation would accomplish these goals by requiring the state Department of Transportation to issue a master plan to make certain that any new construction or expansion of the airport is done in a more transparent way, with the community’s input and a full environmental impact analysis. I feel this legislation is necessary to ensure that the hardworking taxpayers who have Republic Airport as their neighbor are able to enjoy their homes and the standard of living to which they have become accustomed to.”