2007-11-16 / Editorial/Opinion

Frightening Ideas From The Port Authority


It is ironic that New York Magazine produced a cover story about the problems faced by our three major airports this week in an edition dated November 12, 2007 - six years from the day that American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into the streets of Belle Harbor, killing all 260 people on the plane and five locals on the ground. After years of study, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the crash resulted from the unnecessary use of the rudder system by the first officer in his attempt to get out of a wave vortex caused by another heavy aircraft that took off just before AA 587 and that wound up too close to the Airbus A300. Whether or not you believe the NTSB's ruling, it became clear that there were just too many planes traveling over Rockaway in too little airspace. Now, as New York Magazine makes clear, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA), the agency that runs the airport, wants to put even more planes into that same restricted airspace and to perhaps build runways into Rockaway as well. The long article, written by Michael Idov spends some time talking about the problems faced by the three airports - JFK, Newark and LaGuardia. He writes of the flight delays, the long lines, and all the other problems that we have been hearing about for years. Then, he gets to solutions recommended by the PA to remediate those problems. The suggestions include "Airspace Redesign," "Planes Flying Closer Together," More Runways," "More Airports," "Bigger Planes" and "Caps On the Number of Planes." All of the suggestions would impact us one way or another, except for reducing the number of flights, which would help the peninsula sleep better at night, both figuratively and literally. The FAA recently put forth its plan for Airspace Redesign. It would mean new air corridors nearby the airport, spreading out departure routes. Most of the departure routes from JFK already go over Rockaway. The new design will mean even more pain for local residents. Until last year, FAA rules required that planes be kept at least three miles apart. Even under those restrictions, the Airbus A300 designated as "AA 587 Heavy" turned inside the flight path of a JAL 747, causing the wake vortex that eventually brought it down. Last year, bucking to pressure from the PA and the airlines, both of whom are more concerned with profits than safety, the FAA dropped the separation requirements to 2.5 miles. That half-mile change could one day be deadly to Rockaway. The magazine article also speaks of expanding the runways at JFK, something the PA "has the power to do." It quotes an FAA official (who requested anonymity), "We'd have to condemn a bunch of buildings in the Rockaways [to expand the runways]." That is not something that Rockaway or its political leaders, could allow to happen. All in all, the recommended solutions would impact the Rockaway peninsula negatively. It is clear that the federal officials who represent Rockaway must do something to safeguard the community. Part of our problem is that Representative Gregory Meeks sees the airport as a "cash cow," the driving force of the local economy and generally favors anything that the PA and JFK Airport want to do to increase their profitability Representative Anthony Weiner has attempted in the past to cut down on the airport's impact on Rockaway, particularly in the areas impacted by the crash of AA 587, but has had little impact on the FAA or the PA for his effort. The time to stop notion of bringing runways onto the peninsula and plans that would put more planes into the air in closer proximity is now not once those plans are implemented. We can't wait until the runways arrive in Bayswater or Arverne.

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