airplane noise and pollution: FAQ - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the September 2012 Juniper Berry Magazine

airplane noise and pollution: FAQ

FAQ – written by Jeffrey Starin, licensed pilot, President & Principal of ProspectParkQuietSkies.Org

Why are there suddenly so many planes flying over our heads?

The planes over Park Slope, Bed-Stuy are en route to landing at La Guardia airport. They are following either a navigational radio beacon that emanates from the threshold of the runway at La Guardia, or, as in the last several years because of the FAA's roll-out of their NextGen GPS Technology, a GPS signal that allows the aircraft to follow a much more concentrated flight path on approach to runways. The newer navigational technology allows the aircraft to fly lower while maintaining a very precise flight track. By the way, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Park Slope are not the only neighborhoods affected by these changes: Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Prospect Heights and any unfortunate Brooklyn and Queens neighborhood —like Middle Village and Maspeth— that lies beneath these flight tracks are affected. They represent hundreds of thousands of taxpaying residents that are being crop-dusted by these lower flying and noisier aircraft on a daily basis; all for the benefit of several thousands travelers landing into La Guardia on any given day. Do the math: hundreds of thousands of citizens harassed for the benefit of a few thousand travelers. For the record, you can see a document ProspectParkQuietSkies.org obtained via a Freedom of Information Request, here, which clearly shows that the City of New York favors providing noise relief to well-healed tennis enthusiasts during the U.S. Tennis Open rather than providing relief to its taxpaying citizens, because, as you will read in that document, the City of New York pressures the FAA to redirect aircraft away from the U.S. Tennis Open rather than its citizens when it wants to. So much for Bloomberg's environmental initiative and the FAA's mantra that they, the FAA, are only concerned with flight efficiency and safety.

What noise? I don't hear any noise.

You are not hearing the parade of aircraft one right after the other from 6:30 a.m. until past midnight most days of the week because of one of the following reasons: The wind is blowing from the South (see note, 4, below, on how wind affects direction of aircraft flight) and the planes to La Guardia are landing from the North and bypassing Brooklyn altogether.

Perhaps you live in a shuttered environment; your windows might be closed; you have the a/c, television or radio on. Maybe you are too engrossed in your work or childcare to take notice of what is going on around you.

Perhaps you don't live in the corridor of space that is impacted by these low flying aircraft which extends from the middle of Prospect Park, extending west to Seventh Ave.

Spend some time walking around Prospect Park—and Juniper Valley Park— and actually listen to what is going on around you. You would be amazed at how sometimes you can hear the birds and how at other times their song is completely blotted out by aircraft engines — like every 60 to 90 seconds on many days.

Why can't they change the flight paths?

The short answer is because they simply just don't want to. First understand this: this is a recent development and our homes, children, and families were here first. This problem was created by the FAA because they didn't conduct any environmental studies when they redesigned the airspace over New York to facilitate greater efficiency (meaning more arrivals and departures) into and out of La Guardia Airport. That redesign was called the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Airspace Redesign Initiative and it was done without any environmental studies for areas south of La Guardia (that's us, Brooklyn). A multitude of communities and urban centers have been adversely affected by this: residents in Rockland County, Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey have all been complaining for years that this redesign took away their quiet enjoyment of their homes. Yet, the FAA and Port Authority continue with the mantra that nothing has changed. That, despite a multitude of independent noise and pollution studies showing an increase in decibel levels and particulate matter from the sudden increase in aircraft activity so close to the ground for millions of taxpaying U.S. citizens. In fact, this document, created by the FAA itself, incriminates the FAA on this very point! The FAA has the technology — particularly with the new NextGen GPS-based equipment — to route aircraft away from noise sensitive areas. Yet, in their infinite wisdom all they do is use the technology to decrease the altitude at which aircraft fly over densely populated areas and increase the frequency at which they pass overhead. When they sold this bill of goods — the NextGen Technology — to the Congress and American people they promised they would use it to reduce noise and pollution. So far? Bupkis! So the answer to the question of whether or not they can change flight paths is a question of whether or not the FAA wants to change the flight paths. They can, but they haven't figured out how to think outside the box yet. Also, they are very cozy with the airline industry and very often prefer to fastrack the aircraft to the airport (which means they route them over Brooklyn) when they should, according to regulations, route them up the East or Hudson River and then into La Guardia, thereby reducing the sound footprint where people live.

Why do I hear the planes a lot on some days but not at all on other days?

Aircraft must always take off and land into the wind. So, if the wind is blowing from the North, they must fly towards La Guardia from the south (into the wind) when landing. That's when they fly over Brooklyn. Recently, however, the FAA has also routed planes at lower altitudes over Brooklyn when the wind is blowing from the South, then they turn them around when they are over Connecticut and land them into the wind at La Guardia. That is a relatively recent change by the FAA and accounts for why we will also experience air traffic even when the wind is blowing from the South. During inclement weather like rain storms and snow showers with low visibility and low clouds, if the wind is also blowing from the North (which it historically does during that kind of weather) the aircraft will fly VERY low over Park Slope and Bed-Stuy because they are using a particular approach to Runway number 4 at La Guardia which puts them only 1,500 feet or lower over Park Slope and almost just 1,000 feet over Bedford-Stuyvesant! That's when it is really noisy.

Is it safe for the aircraft to be flying so low over a densely populated area?

A typical 737 weighs in at about 875,000 pounds fully loaded with passengers and full fuel. That thing is flying only 1,000 to 1,500 feet above your children's head: do you think that's safe? On some days there are almost 820 of them passing over our homes from about 6:30 a.m. to sometimes as late as 2:30 a.m. On Dec. 16, 1960, two airplanes collided in midair over Staten Island. One, a United Airlines DC-8 from Chicago heading to Idlewild (now Kennedy) International Airport, smashed into buildings in Sterling Place, just west of Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. You can see an archival video of the 1960 aircraft crash in Park Slope here. Only recently the FAA suspended several air traffic controllers for falling asleep in the control tower; and in March, 2010 an air traffic controller at Kennedy Airport allowed an elementary school child to direct air traffic at JFK. Here is another interesting video, a 777 with 275 on board dumping its fuel over homes in New Jersey!

Do all these airplanes contribute to air pollution in our neighborhoods?

See this report by the NYC Air Community Survey: http://www.prospectparkquietskies.org/petition/component/content/article/25/91-aircraft-air-pollution-study-for-brooklyn.html

Hey! This is a city! There's noise! If you don't like it, move out!

I hear that a lot and it's one of the oldest stick-your-head-in-the-sand kind of arguments around. I don't even know where to begin defending against such ignorance. I guess I will just say this: the FAA and Port Authority are breaking the law, specifically numerous subsections of the National Environmental Policy Act Order 1050.1E. As a reference point know this: the New York City Sound Code currently in use puts the limit of continuous and repetitive outdoor noise at 45 decibels. Homeowners and businesses get fines for producing repetitive continuous sound in excess of that — although trying to get the Bloomberg administration to enforce it is another matter. The National Environmental Policy Act targets 65 decibels, calculated using an algorithm called the DNL level, as the threshold beyond which mitigation measures must be put in place by the FAA and airport operator, which is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Bedford-Stuyvesant experiences DNL levels well in excess of those numbers, some as high as 85 decibels. Park Slope experiences normal decibel levels in excess of 85 much of the time. Aircraft flying overhead producing decibel levels in excess of 80 dBa every 70-90 seconds is considered repetitive and continuous.

I'm enraged at what is happening — what can I do to help?

Go to main landing page of our site and click the link Sign Petition for Independent Noise Study. We need engaged citizens who care about quality of life to post their comments on that page. The comments are automatically sent to our local representatives and Federal Senators and Congress people.

I want to do more than just submit a comment. I'm really angry. I don't like it that my health and well-being are being compromised and I certainly don't like being crop-dusted by aircraft all day long.

We need people who are interested in taking sound decibel readings using an inexpensive digital recorder, then uploading that data to our server every few days. If you are REALLY angry and want to help, you can purchase this device for about $200 and we will show you how to set it up and use it. You basically program it then stick it outside your window for three days as it collects data. The data we collect is published here and will be used to prove to the FAA, Port Authority and legislators that the FAA and Port are in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. If you don't want to go that route, we need people to write letters to a list of politicians and legislators. We also need your voice at our meetings with local politicians. We need your voice to tell your friends and neighbors to perk up their ears and listen to what is happening around them.

What are our elected officials doing?

Most legislators and members of Congress take an oath of office when they begin their term. Usually it's something along the lines of protecting the Constitution and upholding the law (it varies between offices). These days, despite promising to their constituents that they will fight for them (especially around election time) most legislators from the local City Council up to the Federal Senate level would rather cherry pick the issues that they can spin to their advantage than actually fight for you. Our groups have collected reams of scientific data and regulatory information substantiating our claim that the FAA and Port Authority are in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act Order 1050.1E, yet our elected officials either refuse to meet with our groups, simply poo poo us, or window dress the issue to make it seem like they are doing something, so, come election time, they can claim they are doing their part. As far as actually standing up for our rights and doing some real fighting, they have all lost their cojones. A simple Internet search on the phrase lawsuit against FAA over aircraft noise +congressman | +senator | +councilman +lawsuit reveals that many elected officials are angry over what the FAA and Port Authority are doing to their constituents, and many are fighting for their voters. Not here in New York! It's almost as though the single most densely populated area in North America — the area where you would think elected officials would want to protect residents' health and environmental rights — doesn't exist! So, in a nutshell to answer the question about what our elected officials are doing about this the answer is: Until they can spin it to their advantage, not a heck of a lot!

What about a legal defense/offense?

If you know of an attorney with the strength of character and gumption to stand up to a large Federal Agency that tramples the rights of citizens please get in touch: we have an impressive list of eye-opening documentation and data that would make for a very strong case; we've read the law, have the facts and know exactly what needs to be done. Where have all the good lawyers gone? Television?

Is all this pollution and air traffic damaging to my health?

Well, duh, like yeah! There are numerous studies tying aircraft noise and pollution to increased suicide rates, cardiovascular disease and learning disabilities in children. Just google it. A video report, here, from Boston's WBZ-TV reports on a Logan Airport Health Study and increased lung cancer rates.

I'm concerned about my property values.

You should be. Read this document prepared by Randall Bell, MAI (Member Appraisal Institute of America) who writes about the effects of aircraft noise on property values and how much you can expect your home value to drop as a result of it. His report, titled The Impact of Airport Noise on Residential Real Estate and available for free download, here and reveals the following: Property values can drop by as much as 22.5% in neighborhoods impacted by aircraft noise (page 319). Suicides doubled for people between 45 and 54 that are subjected to regular aircraft noise (page 317). Cardiovascular disease increased 18% (page 317).

I want to help, what can I do?

You can contact us using the contact us link on the main page and express your interest. We will contact you if you send us an email or telephone number. We always need volunteers. You can also sign up for our newsletter and ask your friends to post a comment on our site.

Was the massive geese asphyxiation in Prospect Park in the summer of 2010 related to all this aircraft noise?

Yes. The FAA lowered the aircraft approach corridors into La Guardia, thereby invading Prospect Park's wildlife sanctuary. Even though the geese in Prospect Park were not migratory, the FAA in concert with the Bloomberg Administration and the Department of Agriculture deemed them a threat and gassed them to death. That, despite the fact that these animals were outside the so called 7-mile kill zone established by the Department of Agriculture. They plan on doing it again in the summer of 2011. We have Freedom of Information Act request documentation showing that personnel from Bloomberg's office, the FAA, the Port Authority and the Department of Agriculture all came together to approve this action. A separate Freedom Of Information Request specifically addressed to Mayor Bloomberg has not been answered, even though his attorney said it would be (that was over 8 months ago).