Quiet Skies For Belle Harbor?
New Flight Paths To Take Aircraft Over Gateway
By Howard Schwach
The words "PELUE TWO" are meaningless. They are simply a computer generated designation of a "waypoint" that aircraft departing from John F. Kennedy Airport’s Runway 31L use to find their way out of the airport and over the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the words are meaningless, the fact that the departure procedure requires planes departing that runway to fly over Riis Park rather than Belle Harbor, may spell relief for many local residents, especially during the critical evening and nighttime hours.
The departure plan, developed by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), then called "PELUE ONE," was first thought of at a meeting that was held in Congressman Anthony Weiner’s office in January of 2001. At that time, it was thought of specifically as a noise abatement route to take some of the pressure off the west end of Rockaway.
The plan was tested in July of 2001 and found by the FAA to be flawed. In order for the aircraft to make their initial turn to use the departure plan, their speed would have to be restricted to 180 knots, according to the FAA. Takeoff speed for many of the planes using the route was in excess of 185 knots, however.
After September 11 and the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on November 12, 2001, the FAA’s energy "got focused elsewhere."
In January of 2002, a number of FAA officials and Rockaway residents met at a meeting at PS 114 in Belle Harbor that was hosted by Congressman Weiner.
At that meeting, FAA officials, including Frank Hatfield, who then headed the air traffic controllers at JFK, promised new flight paths for Rockaway, specifically during the nighttime hours.
"We started out with midnight and slowly moved to the a.m. hours," an FAA report on the subject says. "The traffic was just too heavy in the evening to go 24 hours without negatively impacting JFK."
After publishing the new procedure on June 13, however, it was quickly discovered that it did not work for nearly half of the planes departing runway 31L.
It was found that planes using the departure procedure to move south to other parts of North America got tangled up with planes using other runways that were using a different departure procedure.
Subsequent to that time, a number of meetings were held, including one where The Wave was involved.
In January of this year, PELUE TWO was published. New instructions were given to air traffic controllers at TRACON, the FAA’s control center on Long Island.
Has PELUE TWO been a success?
Most Rockaway residents know first hand that it has not.
"It seems that we take three steps forward and then two steps back," Anthony Weiner told The Wave early this week. "The system is in place, but the air traffic controllers are not complying. Planes at a high elevation are still being turned early and are still flying over Belle Harbor."
He says, however, that he is "cautiously optimistic."
"Things have gotten better," he added. "I think that we have seen the end of the beginning."
According to Weiner’s office, which has been monitoring compliance with PELUE TWO, on April 7, 8 and 9 of this year, more than forty percent of the planes departing 31L used the new departure path.
On May 4, 7 and 15, however compliance ranked from a low of 21 percent to a high of 48 percent.
On May 29, when a representative of Weiner’s office was in the TRACON monitoring flights, 100 percent of the flights used the new departure path.
"The problems associated with the new departure route are not yet solved," Weiner concluded. "We are progressing, however, to make sure it is used at night. From there, there is no reason why they can’t roll it out during the day as well."