2007-10-26 / Editorial/Opinion

Safety Considerations Or Greed: Which Will Control Commercial Aviation?

Flying can be a dangerous business. Rockaway residents know that fact all too well due to the 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor, which took the lives of all those on the aircraft as well as five local residents in their homes. With the sixth anniversary of the November 12 crash close at hand, aviation safety has once again become a controversy to be addressed by the aviation industry and by our elected officials. In a report issued earlier in the week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommended cutting the number of flights at John F. Kennedy Airport to 80 from 100 an hour thereby reducing the number of delayed flights. Not only would that move cut congestion, but it would make the airport safer. The proposed cut comes in the wake of the FAA's plan to use three runways at JFK rather than two to handle traffic on a regular basis and the 30 percent reduction of air traffic controllers to handle those flights. The increase in flights, the regular use of three runways and the reduction of ATC personnel all add up to a much more dangerous airport for local residents, who live right across Jamaica Bay from the airport runways. The 20 percent cut in flights-per-hour would help to ameliorate that condition. The Port Authority, the agency that runs the airport, however, came right back with a statement of its own, stating, "The FAA's approach of cutting flights at JFK is not a solution. In fact, it's potentially a recipe for worsening the problem by pushing growing passenger demand to other airports." A spokesperson for the agency added, "The FAA's action would simply put a 'no vacancy' sign on the airport and walk away." The Port Authority says that there are better solutions, such as installing the next generation of air traffic control equipment and increasing both the number of the runways and the length of those runways into Jamaica Bay, something that would exacerbate the already-existing ecological problem in that bay. It also wants to add an additional westbound departure route, which would bring even more flights over the Rockaway peninsula. There is, however, another problem that must be addressed by the air transportation industry and by the FAA. On Tuesday, the Associated Press revealed on Tuesday a confidential survey and report completed by NASA that shows that air travel is much more dangerous than anybody outside the industry has suspected. After interviewing 24,000 pilots, NASA concluded that mid-air near collisions, close calls on runways and bird strikes happen twice as often as the FAA reported in the past few years. NASA said, however, that it could not release the report because it would "shake public confidence in air travel." In other words, the public can't handle the truth. The airline industry wants to cover up the truth, scheduling even more flights at overburdened airports, providing less of a safety net; all in the name of higher profits. The public wants to fly, but it wants to fly safely. Are the goals compatible? We hope we will soon find out.

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