Noise consideration is one of the four criteria that air traffic controllers consider when selecting which runways to use for arriving and departing flights. But there’s also wind, weather, availability and operational efficiency, according to David Siewert, air traffic manager at JFK Air Traffic Control Tower.
So if you’re experiencing an excessive amount of planes flying over your home or a change in what you’re used to hearing, chances are it can be attributed to at least one of these other three factors.
This was the lesson that frustrated Nassau County residents learned Monday night at the latest meeting of the Town-Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee (TVASNAC), a group includes representatives from Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Garden City, Malverne, East Williston, Inwood, Atlantic Beach, Valley Stream, Cedarhurst, Hewlett Harbor, Island Park, Lawrence, Long Beach, Stewart Manor and Woodsburgh.
TVASNAC had asked Siewert to collect data for runway use at JFK Airport for a 30-day period and present it at its April 23 meeting, which took place inside the , while also explaining runway selection and rotation.
“The first criteria we use is, ‘is the runaway available?’,” Siewert said, explaining that often the Port Authority, which owns the airport, will close runways for necessary maintenance or in some cases, for a complete overhaul, like in 2009 when the Bay Runway was shut down for an extended period of time.
Next, Siewert says, they look at wind and weather conditions, as it’s more advantageous for pilots to land into the wind or with some cross wind. For the 30 days that Siewert tracked, beginning March 15, conditions resulted in air traffic controllers utilizing the 22’s for 19 days, the 4’s for 23 and the 31’s “in some combination” for 27 days.
Since the meeting was set in New Hyde Park, the majority of the residents who filled the school auditorium Monday, including those from nearby Garden City, Floral Park, East Williston and Stewart Manor, were mainly concerned with the traffic arriving on Runway 22L, which results in planes flying over their homes.
Siewert said that he has been rotating the runaways 4-5 times per day so that no one community is being constantly bombarded with air traffic. However, as he fielded questions from both the panel of TVASNAC representatives and some disgruntled residents, it became clear that 22L (especially the ISL approach) is one of the most popular runways because it is part of a configuration that allows JFK to operate at maximum efficiency.
Laurence Quinn, Garden City village trustee and TVASNAC member, told Siewert that his 30-day analysis would have better reflected what area residents are experiencing if he would have tracked “the volume of planes” utilizing the runways. He then proceeded to read off statistics. In March, according to Quinn’s source, 22L had 859 landings, while runway 31 had only 213 and runway 4 had 131.
“That means New Hyde Park, Garden City, Floral Park, Stewart Manor, Elmont, those communities are getting eight times the volume,” he added, as his remarks generated applause and some shouts of agreement from members of the audience.
“I can not explain your data, sir,” Siewert responded, which further infuriated some residents and forced Kendall Lampkin, TVASNAC executive director, to bring the meeting to order.
Quinn acknowledged that his data came from the Port Authority, but no one from the agency was present at the meeting to comment on the figures. Siewert then reminded TVASNAC members and residents that as air traffic control manager, he has no control over the volume of planes that come into JFK.
“We’re like pitchers and catchers,” he said. “We don’t determine who flies in or how many fly, we just pitch and catch. Whatever the airlines give us, that’s what we handle.”
Garden City resident Peter Damiano told him, “you do control the distribution of traffic,” adding that last year 22L had a “staggering” 68,000 arrivals. He held up a graph that showed all the air traffic configurations that had been developed for JFK and asked, “with 22 different configurations available and others you can come up with, why are you so focused on that one? I understand efficiency but noise should be a consideration.”
“It’s unrealistic to say there will never be any planes over New Hyde Park and I don’t think anyone is looking for that,” stated the TVASNAC rep for Floral Park, Mary-Grace Tomecki. “But we’re looking for more rotations so there is more reprieve.”
Tomecki also asked why runways 13L and 13R can’t be used more often to give the 22’s a break, while also apologizing to those residents living under these approaches, those in the Five Towns area.
Siewert explained that when JFK uses the 13’s, it negatively impacts surrounding airports, LaGuardia and Newark, and causes Teterboro to basically shut down altogether.
Larry Hoppenhauer, representative for TVASNAC's newest member, the village of Malverne, asked a similar question, but his related to departures on runway 22R.
“We get all of the departures at Kennedy and it’s noisy because that’s when they are really gunning those engines,” Hoppenhauer said.
Siewert explained that 22R is used for take-offs because it’s one of the longer runways. The alternative runway would be 4, but this configuration requires pilots to make a right turn once they are airborne to avoid LaGuardia, so it isn’t ideal. The 4’s were used for 23 of the 30 days that Siewert tracked, but only for periods of time.
At least a dozen residents came forward to address the board and the few aviation officials who were present throughout the night. Some chose to speak about how the excessive noisy flights were impacting their sleep habits and the potential health effects.
Others expressed their concerns about planes flying at low altitudes, including one woman who was worried that the growing population of Canadian geese could be harmed or even contribute to a crash. Bill Huisman of the Aviation Development Council, said the Port Authority is in the midst of an aggressive campaign to address the bird problem. One resident also suggested putting the arguments aside and instead focus on implementing noise cancelation mechanisms.
“There is a level of frustration,” said Stewart Manor representative Cristina T. O'Keefe, sympathizing with the residents who came with questions that Siewert was not able to answer because they were outside his scope. “The issues we have are never going to be resolved until we have a more holistic view of the problems… we need the FAA and Port Authority working together.”
Lampkin agreed, and said elected officials on the state and federal level need to help make this happen. He added, “The real challenge is to , so the finger-pointing stops.”
The next TVASNAC meeting will take place on May 21 at 7:30 p.m. in .