2002-01-26 / Front Page

Locals Skeptical About New FAA Plan

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and Congressman Anthony Weiner went to great lengths last Sunday at a town hall meeting at PS 114 to convince Rockaway residents that a new plan to reroute aircraft out over the water by using state of the art technology was going to cut flights over the peninsula by 80 percent.

"Flights departing JFK from Runway 31 have to turn left almost immediately after takeoff to avoid flying into the path of aircraft arriving and departing LaGuardia Airport, "Weiner told The Wave. "That put the aircraft on a heading directly over Rockaway."

"That runway is used whenever the wind is from the Northwest, and that is about 40 percent of the year," he added.

The new plan, however, would utilize a new Global Positioning System (GPS) built into the flight computers of each plane using JFK. That GPS would be programmed to take a precise course that would take the planes over the bay, through the slot between Breezy Point and Coney Island and then over the Atlantic.

According to Weiner, that path can be followed as long as there are no more than 24 flights in a given one-hour period. According to FAA officials, on the average day, there are only four to six hours each day when there are more than 24 flights in that hour.

"When that happens, when there are more than 24 flights in an hour and the Breezy Track cannot be used, then the flights will be programmed to pass over Riis Park, rather than Belle Harbor," Weiner added.

Although Weiner is sure that the plan can be implemented by the middle of next month, FAA officials and residents remain skeptical that there will be 80 percent fewer flights over Rockaway.

An FAA spokesperson told The Wave that the agency would "study the proposal," and that the plan would reduce flights, but it stopped short of promising an 80 percent reduction. "It all depends on the wind," the spokesperson said. "Nobody can control that variable."

The spokesperson added, however, that if the plan is feasible, a new flight path could be enforced within a few months.

At the meeting, FAA officials told residents that it would take some time to train pilots and reprogram their computers. The target date for the beginning of the new flight paths is February 21, but officials admit that they might not be able to make that deadline. If not, then the FAA cannot issue new flight paths for another 56 days – which would take the starting date into late April.

"We have to make sure that the new flight paths are 100 percent safe before we implement them," says FAA official Frank Hatfield, a Rockaway resident. "We are not going to implement them until we are sure that they are safe."

"Residents will still see an occasional plane flying over the peninsula," he added. "It all depends on weather, wind and what's going on in the cockpit."

Residents are even more skeptical.

"I think that it sounds good, but, like everybody here, I'll believe it when I don't hear the flights coming over any more," says Linda Ruscillo, who organized a demonstration at JFK Airport in late November (See Wave, December 8, 2001). "We really have to wait to see if this becomes a reality."

"This looks like a workable plan for Belle Harbor," activist Floyd Smith told reporters. "The problem is, it doesn't effect the east end of the peninsula at all."

The flight paths of planes departing from runways other than Runway 31 will remain the same, as will all arriving flight paths.

In addition, the flight path of the Concorde, the plane that irritates Rockaway residents most, would not change at all.

"The Concorde is a special problem," Hatfield said at the PS 114 meeting. "It can't maneuver like the other planes. We have to get it out over the ocean as soon as possible."

"We have to point it at the ocean and let it go," he added.

"Get rid of it," a resident yelled.

"That's not in my purview," the FAA official said.

He added that flights would take off from JFK and fly over Rockaway if necessary only from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"We want to remove the noise pollution problem as well," he said.

"It's not any longer the idea of noise," Ruscillo said. "We're living in a time of terrorism and you have to give some consideration to where the planes are flying now, more than ever."

Gerrie Pomponio, whose husband was killed in the crash of Flight 587 on November 12, perhaps echoed the sentiments of most Rockaway residents.

"I always look up when I hear a plane fly over," she says. "My feeling is that I'm going to have to wait and see to believe it. I'm going to have to wait and see."

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