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Congress Passes FAA Re-Authorization Bill

Local critics fear negative impact on North Shore communities

It has taken five years, 23 stop-gap measures and a two week suspension of funding of the Federal Aviation Administration last summer for congress to finally pass the FAA Re-Authorization Bill. In the end the bill enjoyed bi-partisan support and passed in the Senate 75 to 20 on Feb. 6. It had passed the House the week before. It will now go to President Obama for signature.

Local groups such as Residents for Quiet Skies Over North Hempstead had tried valiantly to stop this legislation in its present form because of what they believe will be a profound adverse effect on the quality of life in North Hempstead. There are other groups that have opposed the new legislation including the American Civil Liberties Union due to privacy issues and environmentalists because of exemptions to the Clean Air Act.

The purpose of the FAA Re-Authorization Bill is to prod the nation’s aviation system into a new high tech era in which satellites and GPS will replace radar as the central element in air traffic control. It also contains a clause, which requires the FAA to open the skies around the nation’s busiest airports to drone flights, which will occupy the same air space as manned flights. All of these technological advances have already been implemented in Europe.

The new GPS technology is known as NextGen. It will enable planes to fly closer together and at more frequent intervals. Planes will come in for steeper landings with engines idling, reducing emissions from individual aircraft. Therein lies one of the issues causing great concern in the TONH. Although emissions and noise from individual planes will decrease, the 50 percent projected air traffic increase over the next ten years as a result of the NextGen technology will have the aggregate effect of increasing emissions and noise levels. Critics take issue with the new law because it specifically exempts the FAA from the environmental impact studies, which are generally required before the implementation of new legislation that impacts air traffic and airport development.

The ACLU objects to the new law on two issues. The unmanned drone flights can be operated by government, individuals and corporations all of which will have access to private information that is gathered by satellite. Furthermore the law allows the taking of private residential property under eminent domain, in order to expand and improve airports, at the value of the property after the value of the land has been diminished by the prospect of the project.

National critics of the new legislation maintain that the impact of the NextGen technology will seriously impact communities which had not been previously affected or were marginally affected by airplane noise and pollution. Local residents of Sands Point, Salem and East Hills say they are among those communities which have already been affected by changes to air traffic patterns implemented in October and can look forward to additional negative impact as NextGen is implemented.

Len Schaier, head of Residents for Quiet Skies Over North Hempstead said, “We are terribly disappointed in the language of the Bill and how it allows the FAA to ignore the environmental protections that previous congresses have worked so hard to implement. In the short term we are developing substantive suggestions on the NEXTGEN program for submission by March 7.” He also wants us to know which of our elected officials supported local residents on this issue. Representatives Ackerman, McCarthy, Bishop and Senator Gillibrand voted “No” supporting local constituents, while Senator Schumer and Representative King voted “Yes,” against local constituents.