Schumer, DC pols have chance to hold FAA accountable
by Peter Rutledge
Apr 27, 2016 | 17296 views | 5 5 comments | 839 839 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I was privileged to be among a half-dozen community activists from Queens and Nassau counties whom Senator Charles Schumer selected in October 2014 to discuss the issue of airplane noise issue.

The meeting came a few weeks after an orderly protest that I organized outside the senator's Manhattan office, which this newspaper featured on its front page. At the meeting, the senator pledged to do his best to persuade the FAA to reduce noise levels.

A year and a half later, we are still waiting.

Schumer is in a unique position here. He will likely soon accede to the Democratic leader's post in the Senate and, depending on what happens in November, stands to emerge as one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington.

It's nice to have friends like this!

So why haven't we seen Schumer come to the aid of his constituents? The reason is that the senator has been a key backer of the FAA's "NextGen" project, which aims to reduce airport delays by spacing airplanes closer together via GPS.

To get maximum results, the FAA now requires commercial jetliners to use more low-altitude takeoff and landing paths that cause maximum noise to people on the ground.

As part of this, noise-mitigation routes have been pushed aside at many urban airports, including LaGuardia, while the noisiest jets (especially MD-88's, 25-year-old airframes that are a mainstay of Delta's fleet at LaGuardia) get a green light to fly low and loud over formerly quiet residential neighborhoods.

By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, 5 percent of the people in Queens, Nassau and Brooklyn are now impacted by 95 percent of the noise that was formerly distributed across the airspace. The 5 percent now get 100 percent of the noise. (The FAA would argue this shows a 95 percent reduction in noise.)

Meanwhile, the airlines flying int and out of New York City have gotten pretty much everything they could want. The list in just the last few months includes billions in public funds for improvements at LaGuardia, more flights permitted at Newark by gutting the long-standing slot system, and major reconstruction of runways at Kennedy.

The stock prices of the major airlines - American, Delta, Southwest and United - are through the roof. Many factors explain the markets' new faith in the airline sector, such as the windfall from lower fuel prices, but a big factor is that the FAA always dances to the industry tune.

FAA has been merciless, not to say cruel, in imposing flight paths that benefit the industry, and this is reflected in the prices of their stocks.

What about cost? It is undeniable that high levels of noise are a cost to the well being of people on the ground. Doubters should Google a Harvard Public Health study in 2013 that shows more heart attacks among people living in neighborhoods impacted by airplane noise.

Or the doubters could read the emails I get from a woman in formerly quiet Auburndale, who goes to bed in tears because of the constant noise, or a lifelong resident of Flushing who sleeps in her apartment hallway to escape the noise.

These are costs borne entirely by people on the ground. The airlines reap the profit.

A critical vote approaches on FAA funding for the years ahead. Some time in June or July there will be an opportunity for Congress to insist that the FAA mitigate noise inflicted on residential neighborhoods to benefit an industry that has gone from being the perennial sick man of the U.S. economy to a darling of Wall Street.

It is clear that the airlines can afford to do better. A good start would be to retire those aging MD-88s.

Peter Rutledge is a resident of Bayside.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Jeff Lewis
April 28, 2016
A very good letter. Thanks for taking the time to study the problem and report it accurately, thoroughly.

As a retired FAA ATC on the West Coast, I have made it something of a weird hobby to study aviation impacts and try to identify solutions. It is absolutely true that FAA has basically opened all faucets and removed all barriers for the airlines, and in the process has destroyed all community balances that previously existed. The health of many individual residents is also being destroyed.

Thankfully, with responsible citizens speaking up and demanding accountability, all of this can (and will, eventually!) be repaired. The normalization, so that airports and FAA serve people and communities and not just airline profits, would be greatly accelerated if our elected officials spent less time politicking and fundraising, and more time SERVING YOUR CONSTITUENTS!
Elaine Miller
April 28, 2016
Great article and you hit each point directly head on. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the people who suffer from a constant stream of noise due to the runways. I speak from personal experience. Someone needs to have criminal charges pressed against. Perhaps a class action suit.
April 28, 2016
With hundreds of thousands of people across the country suffering under NextGen, this would almost seem to qualify as a crime against humanity. FAA head Michael Huerta needs to be held accountable.
Len Schaier
April 28, 2016
Bulls eye Peter,


Len Schaier
Joe Brostek
April 28, 2016
Thank you so much for your well thought out and beautifully constructed letter. You have certainly covered all the bases. Joe Brostek, Broadway-Flushing