New Law Hits Turbulence
By John C. McLoughlin
A recent change in federal aviation laws has created a stir throughout Queens, as an increase of 300 flights a day are expected out of LaGuardia and JFK International airports. The debate over whether the change was beneficial for Queens, and Rockaway residents, has propelled into a battle between Councilman Noach Dear and Congressman Anthony Weiner.
The Aviation Investment And Reform Act For The 21st Century (AIR-21) was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 319 to 101 and was signed into law by President Clinton on April 5, 2000. The new law caps the number of flights in and out of LaGuardia and Kennedy airports until 2007, but allows unrestricted regional jets with 70 seats or fewer to have unrestricted access to these airports.
Congressman Anthony Weiner, who joined the other members of the Queens congressional delegation in voting for AIR-21, said, "The recent passage of AIR-21 was a great victory for New York and for the Queens communities surrounding our airports. AIR-21 extends the ‘slots’ rule for LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, holding in place the ceiling on the number of flights in and out of the airports until the year 2007. Originally, the ‘slots’ rule would have expired this year, allowing an unlimited number of all sizes of aircraft--including the loudest 747s, 727s, and CD10s--to take off and land at LaGuardia and JFK."
Weiner added, "In order to maintain this cap on the loud aircraft that plague our neighborhoods, an exemption was allowed for the addition of small, quiet regional jets which are 50 percent quieter than planes currently in use. Under the new law, each airline is allowed up to 20 exemptions to the ‘slots’ rule, and then flights can only be added if the planes used are brand-new, Stage III complaint aircraft that seat 70 people or fewer and fly to small or non-hub airports."
According to Councilman Noah Dear, chairman of the New York City Council Transportation Committee, this is a "misrepresentation of fact" by Weiner. Dear, whom Weiner defeated in the Democratic primary for the Ninth Congressional District last year, is being mentioned as a candidate for the seat in next year’s election.
"This law instituted a 2007 expiration date for the so-called ‘slots’ rule when there had never been a date of expiration for the ‘slots’ rule until now," Dear said. "In addition, AIR-21 immediately relaxed the limits on certain regional flights, leading to 300 new flights a day.
"Without this legislation to terminate it, the ‘slots’ rule would have remained intact indefinitely. New flights--including the regional 300 new flights a day, which now threaten the communities surrounding LaGuardia and JFK--would still be prohibited indefinitely."
Weiner defends the bill, saying that AIR-21 "allows for only the quietest aircraft to operate out of our airports, and simultaneously strengthens the noise regulations with which they must be compliant."
Weiner also noted that AIR-21 increases, by more than $1 billion, funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which provides funding for airport facilities and equipment and grants for residential and school soundproofing in areas affected by airport noise.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration has said it can "manage" any additional flights, there is concern that more flights, especially during peak hours, will increase the burden of noise pollution over the heads of residents.
"For the hundreds of thousands of New York City residents living in the immediate vicinity of those airports and already dealing with intolerable noise levels, the congressional action means the situation will soon worsen," said Councilman Dear.
Dear has also been joined by City Council Speaker Peter Vallone in voicing opposition to this change in the law. Vallone expressed "vehement opposition to what is about to become the largest expansion of aviation traffic in decades." He continued by saying, "Under a burden of 300 or more additional flights, even the most state-of-the-art ‘quiet’ jets will increase noise levels. I am calling upon our congressional delegation to take whatever steps are necessary to reverse this harmful course of action."