A visibly upset crowd of over 200 people packed a ballroom at the Bay Terrace Jewish Center in Bayside for the meeting with FAA officials. Before the meeting, State Senator Tony Avella called for restraint from the crowd, saying that a shouting match wouldn't prove fruitful going forward.
“We want them to get out of here alive,” he joked, before turning more serious. “This is the single most important environmental issue that northeast Queens faces, and we are not going to let it destroy our quality of life forever.”
Problems first began to emerge last summer, when residents in neighborhoods like Flushing and Bayside began to notice an increase in noise from low-flying aircraft taking off from LaGuardia Airport (LGA).
After local elected officials began receiving numerous complaints, the FAA revealed that it was testing a new takeoff pattern.
On Thursday, FAA officials assured residents that last summer's test was maxing out the new pattern as part of an environmental assessment, and that there would be fewer flights this year.
“We are certain that we don't want to have that summer again,” said Ed McKenna, air traffic manager at LGA. “What you got last summer was an anomaly.”
But residents weren't pleased when they were told that the noise wouldn't subside altogether.
As explained by FAA officials, the new takeoff pattern attempts to minimize the turning radius of planes headed north and east to keep a safe distance from planes landing at JFK in south Queens.
In other words, planes are making their turns sooner after takeoff, forcing them to fly lower over residential neighborhoods. The quicker turn also requires planes to use more power, which creates more noise.
According to FAA officials, that change in the takeoff pattern will not be amended.
The changes are also part of a new radar system employed by the FAA, which allows planes to land and takeoff closer together at area airports.
Some residents, including Assemblyman Ed Braunstein, who lives right in the flight path, are suspicious that the changes are intended to help airlines maximize profits by increasing the number of flights.
“We shouldn't be forced out of our backyards so that the airlines can make more money,” he said last week.
A representative of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association read a statement from the board at the meeting. It noted that seemingly overnight the neighborhood was transformed from a sleepy community to a landing strip.
“We dread to think what will happen in the spring and summer when we open our windows and enjoy our backyards,” read the statement.
Nancy Liu, a retired northeast Queens resident who says the plane noise has disrupted her life, asked FAA officials if they planned to increase the number of flights in and out of LGA, and then asked the direct question that was on everyone's mind.
“I want to know if I should move away from here,” she said to applause.
McKenna assured Liu that LGA had a maximum capacity for flights, and that there were no plans to increase the number of planes at the airport, but many remained skeptical.
FAA representatives agreed to meet regularly with residents in the future, and Avella noted that last week's meetings was just the first of many he hopes to organize with the FAA.
On Friday afternoon at an unrelated event, Avella said he was pleased with the meeting, but added that the community would accept nothing less than a return to the old flight patterns.
“If the FAA doesn't go back to the old way, they are in for the fight of their life,” he said.