2007-07-06 / Editorial/Opinion

Has JFK Become An Increased Threat From The Sky?

There are many Rockaway residents who look to the sky when they hear a plane flying overhead, a residual reaction to the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into the streets of Belle Harbor in November of 2001, which killed all 260 on the plane and five residents on the ground. While the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the crash was a result of several factors, including the first officer's "overaggressive and unnecessary" use of the rudder, the Federal Aviation Administration has done nothing to address the NTSB's request that the airlines and the manufacturer, Airbus Industries rectify the problem of disbonding tail structures. The FAA has never addressed the NTSB's ruling that a faulty fuel tank structure was the cause of Flight 800's fatal accident off of Long Island. Recently, the FAA announced that there has been a 27 percent increase in flights in and out of John F. Kennedy Airport in the first quarter of 2007. Through March 4, JFK handled 104,500 flights, up from 82,000 during the same period last year. The majority of those flights pass over the peninsula, sometimes at extremely low altitudes. At the same time, there has been a 4.8 percent flight cancellation rate at the airport (nationally, second only to LaGuardia) and a 33 percent delay rate in flights taking off from the airport. In order to remediate the delay problem, the FAA has authorized using three of its four runways on a regular basis, a radical change from past protocol that mandated the use of only the two parallel runways for regular traffic. It was only during emergencies that three runways could be used simultaneously. Now, aviation experts have stated that JFK is using all four of its runways simultaneously on a regular basis to handle an ever-increasing flight schedule. At the same time, the number of controllers who handle those flights has been cut from 40 to 28. Add those things up, and what you get is a recipe for disaster, with Rockaway right in the bulls-eye of that disaster. Things will only get worse, aviation experts say. There will be more flights and more weather-related and terrorism-related delays, as there was on Sunday, when the American Airlines terminal was evacuated because somebody spotted a random bag that was left in an area where it should not have been. What can be done to ameliorate the problem? Cut down on the number of flights until more controllers are hired. Use only the number of runways that can be safely utilized, given the weather and traffic conditions. Separate aircraft over Rockaway in an adequate manner. Force the FAA to follow the NTSB's orders when safety is involved. And, check those tails on the Airbus A300 series aircraft before another one crashes into Rockaway.

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