FAA considers changes at Brookhaven airport

The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing a proposal The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing a proposal by a Brookhaven advisory panel to change flight patterns at the town airport. (April 23, 2011) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing a proposal by a Brookhaven advisory panel to change flight patterns at the town airport after two separate plane crashes in Suffolk County killed two people and injured three.

Officials from four other Long Island airports rejected the idea of increasing safety measures when the cause of the crashes has not been determined and said possible mechanical issues should not prompt operational changes.

East Hampton Airport manager James Brundige said the crash that sent two people to Stony Brook University Hospital on Aug. 26 "had nothing to do with our procedures."

A plane leaving East Hampton Airport crashed shortly after takeoff when the engine of the Mooney M20C "experienced a total loss," according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

"It was a mechanical issue," unrelated to operations or flight patterns, and there are no imminent plans for changes at the airport, Brundige said.

He acknowledged crashes could spur re-evaluations of airport safety procedures, but said "our procedures are reviewed on a regular basis."

One week before the East Hampton crash, a Socata TB10 plane departing Brookhaven Calabro Airport slammed into a Shirley neighborhood, killing David J. McElroy, 53, of Orient, and a passenger, Jane Unhjem, 60, of upstate Goshen. Unhjem's husband, Erik, 61, was critically injured. McElroy had taken the Unhjems on a test flight, intending to sell them the plane.

The plane appeared to have a properly working engine and control mechanism, yet was flying at a "slow" and "anemic" pace, according to a preliminary NTSB report.

The determination on what caused both crashes may take a year, federal officials said.

Some local residents are demanding action sooner.

Raymond Keenan, a Shirley resident and member of an airport advisory subcommittee that drafted the Brookhaven airport flight change proposal, wants the airport closed and says residents fear another plane crash in the neighborhood.

"I don't think the airport belongs here anymore," said Keenan, president of Manor Park Civic Association. "When it was built, it wasn't this populated; there needs to be stricter rules. You feel unsafe at times because of the planes that fly low."

Based on the advisory subcommittee's recommendation, Brookhaven Town Republican Councilman Dan Panico introduced to the town board in August a resolution to abate noise and change flight patterns for Brookhaven Calabro Airport. The resolution was passed and submitted to the FAA, which has the authority to mandate changes.

Under the proposal, the planes would take off in the same direction but bank at a height that would allow them to avoid residential areas. "That will get them away from the residential areas before they turn," Keenan said.

FAA officials confirmed they are reviewing the proposal, but set no timetable for a decision.

Panico, the town board liaison to Brookhaven airport, said some of the residents' concerns are justified, even if authorities haven't determined the cause of the Shirley crash.

"Tragedies do occur. But we haven't had a tragedy like this for as long as I can remember," Panico said. He said that taking preventive measures such as better educating operators and pilots is one solution to alleviating potential crashes.

Officials from other Long Island airports say their safety measures are adequate.

"We have no changes planned for the airports in light of those crashes," Islip Town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia said of Long Island MacArthur Airport, a town-owned commercial airport in Ronkonkoma. "It doesn't necessarily affect the airport."

Anthony Ceglio, manager of Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, said, "We don't need to do or change anything." He noted the airport has three runways, one of which is 9,000 feet, which give pilots "different options" in case a plane has a mechanical issue.

Gary Lewi, a spokesman for Republic Airport, said any decision to increase safety must be made by the FAA.

Still, Panico argued something can be done to bolster safety. "There is an inherent risk when it comes to flying. I would never say I can mitigate that risk 100 percent. But we try to do what we can to minimize that risk," he said.

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