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Planes Over Jackson Heights Up Nearly 80 Percent, Largely on Weekends: Data

By Katie Honan | August 30, 2016 2:47pm | Updated on August 30, 2016 4:05pm
 Activists from Queens Quiet Skies crunched runway data from LaGuardia to show the increase in air traffic over Queens since 2002.
Activists from Queens Quiet Skies crunched runway data from LaGuardia to show the increase in air traffic over Queens since 2002.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

QUEENS — Plane traffic has increased nearly 80 percent in Jackson Heights and Woodside over the last eight years, with most of the traffic happening on weekends, according to Port Authority data. 

And the Federal Aviation Administration has blamed the new air pattern on the "wind" — despite wind patterns staying the same throughout Queens, activists said.

Jackson Heights, which has long dominated the Port Authority's complaint hotline, saw a 79 percent jump since 2008, according to data retrieved from a Freedom of Information Request by Queens Quiet Skies.

The borough's advocacy group for airplane noise and traffic asked for all of the runway usage data for LaGuardia Airport, according to vice president Brian F. Will.

The historical data was "staggering," he said, and showed a major increase in flights over homes instead of the East River and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

"Northeast Queens in 2002 had 57,000 departures over it; by 2016, we are on pace for over 100,000 departures," he said. 

"Jackson Heights, they have had a sevenfold increase in departures — mostly on weekends, when families are in the park. This is just staggering." 

Flights over western Queens jumped from 1,000 in 2008 but are on track to hit 7,000 this year, according to the data.

Will released his findings Tuesday at State Sen. Tony Avella's office in Bayside. Avella, a longtime advocate for communities effected by plane noise, said he hopes communities can continue their fight to reach a compromise with nearby airports.

"It's clear...what we've been saying here in northeast Queens is now backed up by the data," he said. "We're getting more than our fair share."

He said the 79 percent increase in Jackson Heights is "incredible."

"We still want to work together with everybody and come up with a plan to make sure that everybody gets a little, no one neighborhood like northeast Queens gets it all," he said. 

When they've asked the FAA about the increase, federal officials have blamed Mother Nature, they said. 

"Anytime you ask the FAA — 'it's the wind,'" Will said he and other activists are told.

"I've never gotten a straight answer," Avella said. "Clearly what they are trying to do is increase capacity overall, that's what the airlines want. They want more flights, which I can understand from their perspective, but from the communities that I represent and all the other communities, there has to be a balance."

An email to a spokesman for the FAA was not immediately returned.

A spokeswoman for the Port Authority denied that there has been an increase in the number of flights over the last decade — and added that air traffic patterns are controlled by a "variety of factors" which include wind, weather and safety.

"Our analysis shows the boundaries of significant noise (which is Federally defined as 65DNL) in areas around the airport have not changed significantly since 2008," she said.

"In 2012, the FAA increased the use of certain departure routes which has shifted aircraft flight patterns to neighborhoods in Northern Queens. Additionally, construction related to Federally-mandated part 139 runway safety compliance work has forced increased use of a runway pattern leading over Jackson Heights on an interim basis, and is expected to conclude in the coming months."

There will be a public meeting Sept. 29 at the LaGuardia Airport Marriott for homeowners to share their concerns, she added. The time of that meeting is not immediately clear.

Homeowners can complain to the Port Authority about plane noise — and have by the thousands, with Jackson Heights and Bayside leading the pack in 2016.

Between Sept. 1 2015 and Aug. 1. 2016, there were 3,761 calls in the 11372 zip code complaining about air traffic. In 11356, which covers College Point, there were 2,801 calls.

In Bayside — 11361 — there were 1,505 calls, and neighboring Oakland Gardens had 1,159 complaints.

Stan Goldstein, who's lived in Flushing for 68 years, said he and other neighbors complained to the Port Authority after flight patterns changed in 2012 — but were told by officials that "everything is just the way it used to be."

"There was a large amount of stonewalling," he said.

Maria Becce, 63, has lived in her house in Broadway-Flushing for 35 years, where she coexisted with tolerable plane noise for 31 years, she said. 

She first noticed the louder planes in 2012, when the roar of a jet engine jolted her out of bed.

"When I first heard it, I thought it was terrorism," or a plane crash, she said. 

She hopes airlines can modernize their planes to make them quieter, or for there to be some compromise in air traffic like there was before.

"We want to be able to get some peace and quiet again," she said.