Because of a new flight route from LaGuardia Airport, his childhood has become wrought with tension and anxiety. He will never know a good night’s rest. He will yell as a general means of communication. He will spend his formative years in a constant state of restlessness.
My nephew represents my family’s fifth generation in Queens. He does not live close to LaGuardia. Until recently, he didn’t live under a flight route. In fact, when I was growing up in that same house, I hardly knew the airport was there.
Thus far, the dialogue on this issue has been either polluted by industry rhetoric or brushed aside and ignored by an increasingly self-absorbed city. No one seems too concerned that the FAA’s Airspace Redesign is turning a formerly thriving area of Queens into an unlivable, industrial backwater. No one seems terribly upset that teachers can’t teach and kids can’t do homework.
But for those who are interested in this issue and want to know more, here are a few things that have been missing from the narrative so far:
• The people complaining the loudest didn’t buy homes under flight routes.
• New routes have been implemented over them (LGA’s TNNIS Climb).
• Overland routes that had been sparingly used in the past have been standardized for general use (LGA’s Whitestone Climb, Localizer 31, JFK’s 22L approaches).
• Water routes have been abandoned (LGA’s River Visual approach).
These changes have occurred for only one reason: operational efficiency. LaGuardia may still put its arriving planes into the wind, but nearly all departures from LGA now use runway 13. They use runway 13 because they can clear the runway intersection quickly. With the intersection clear, arriving planes can be spaced more closely, and the capacity of the airport increases.
From John S. Carr, president of Air Traffic Controllers Union addressing congress in December of 2000: "With intersecting runways, the distance a departing aircraft must travel from the point of takeoff to the crossing intersection is a major factor in establishing an airport’s capacity. At LaGuardia, when departures are run southeast, aircraft only have to travel 1,500 feet to the point of crossing thus allowing more arriving and departing aircraft to be sequenced by air traffic control.”
That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about wind. It’s not about repairs or maintenance. It’s about squeezing as many planes as possible into the existing infrastructure, regardless of the impact it may have on tens of thousands of previously unaffected people.
And precision navigation has made the situation even worse by dramatically reducing altitudes and separation between planes. Living under the new, NextGen flight route from LaGuardia has been described as “noise torture” by people in Bay Terrace, over eight miles from the runway intersection.
Until recently, vast areas of eastern Queens were considered desirable places to live. The professionals that anchored these areas are now leaving in droves. Teachers can’t teach, kids can’t do homework and half of Bayside is up for sale. Eastern Queens is effectively being sacrificed for a bureaucratic pipe dream called Airspace Redesign, where the FAA will cram every existing open patch of air with a plane.
My family's heritage in Queens, now five generations strong, is effectively being erased by a reckless expansion of the aviation industry. The working-class families that characterized the region for generations are being forced out. It’s a land seizure, plain and simple.
The FAA operates with two mandates, safety and efficiency. Pollution mitigation isn’t even a priority. It is time for the FAA to recognize the long-term health, economic and social impacts of their actions.
And lastly, I wish someone could correctly define “near the airport” for me. Feel free to be as specific as possible. I’d love to know the exact street that separates near from far.
Brian F. Will is a resident of Queens and member of Queens Quiet Skies.