Plan Set To Track
By Howard Schwach
Over the past few weeks, Rockaway residents have been inundated with low flying planes cutting across the peninsula. Last week The Wave received several phone calls about a low-flying Concorde that rattled west end windows over the past weekend. The low overflights are made more disquieting by the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor last November and the subsequent promise of the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) that fewer planes would fly over the peninsula, not more.
When the Concorde flies over, however, everybody knows what type of aircraft it is and what airline is flying the route.
That is not true of other aircraft that challenge both the hearing and the nerves of Rockaway residents. The other aircraft have been hard to track because, although many locals have learned to read tail markings, it is impossible to know the flight number and destination of the aircraft.
That is, it has been impossible until now.
Under a new system developed by a private company, local residents may soon be able to go online to track planes that fly low over their homes and disturb their piece of mind. That flight tracking system will be available to anybody with an Internet provider through the airport's website.
The problem, according to local politicians who met this week to discuss the system, is that it would cost the Port Authority $20 thousand monthly to set up the system and keep it running at both Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
That system, developed by Megadata Corporation of Greenwich, Connecticut, uses satellite technology from the FAA to create a report of up to 350 aircraft movement in a 150-mile radius of the airport. The system can pinpoint and display the type of aircraft, its carrier, its altitude and its flight designation number.
Local politicians hope to get the federal government to fund the program through a congressional allotment, at least for the first two years.
"These are useful tools of information," Congressman Joseph Crowley says. "It would really empower people who live nearby airports."
And, although Congressman Anthony Weiner was not at the meeting, he supports the move to get federal funding in order to get it on line as soon as possible.
"I think that it's a great Idea," Weiner told The Wave. "There is a small problem in the â018lag time' for residents to get the full information they need, but I am on board."
Weiner also says that he and his staff have asked for a formal FAA investigation into the incident last Saturday, when a Concorde flew very low over the west end of the peninsula.
"That was just too close to the time that the Concorde had equipment problems in Europe," Weiner said, relating the latest incident to another incident two weeks ago when a JFK-bound Concorde had to turn back because one engine failed.
An FAA spokesperson told The Wave that the new system was not within the scope of that agency's operations, that it was a question for the Port Authority, which operates the two airports.
A spokesperson for the Port Authority said that he welcomed anything that would make the airport better neighbors.
""We are hopeful that the members of our congressional delegation can obtain the necessary funding for our airports to provide the next generation in flight tracking information that the public can access directly from their home computers," said William DeCosta, the director of aviation for the Port Authority.
The system is already available in such diverse locations as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Louisville (Kentucky) and Boca Raton (Florida).
According to a source in Boca Raton, the website shows a map of the airport and the 100 miles surrounding the airport. The graphic display shows incoming planes as blue icons and departing planes as green icons. The system updates every 4.6 seconds. Planes shown as black icons are moving through the area on their way to other destinations. Clicking on any icon brings up the plane's type, its altitude and other pertinent information. After a slight delay, the screen will show airline, flight number and tail number.
Proponents of the system say that it will allow residents to pinpoint those aircraft that fly low and loud over their community and will validate their complaints to the FAA. The Los Angeles system has a link that allows residents to make noise complaints right on the website.
Experts say that the system could be up and running in New York City within a month or two of its funding.