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Night arrivals on JFK Runway 22L jumped 36% in one year, Port Authority says

Airplanes on the runway of John F. Kennedy

Airplanes on the runway of John F. Kennedy International Airport as a boater passes by on the waters of Head Of Bay, located in Queens. (Aug. 13, 2012) Credit: Uli Seit

Nassau residents who live under the landing path of a Kennedy Airport runway and say they have noticed an uptick in airplane noise have good reasons to complain: Overnight arrivals spiked more than a third in 2013 over the previous year.

There were 11,520 planes that landed on Runway 22L -- one of four at the airport -- between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. last year, compared with 8,497 in 2012, an increase of nearly 36 percent, according to the airport manager, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. No other runway had such an increase in night arrivals.

For the past several years, the jets come in clusters, one after another, and continue for several hours, said Anthony Samartano, 88, and his wife, Grace Samartano, 83, who have lived in their Floral Park home for several decades.

A batch of planes typically passes over their home starting about 3 p.m. these days and continues into dinnertime, the couple said. Another wave arrives at the crack of dawn.

"Every minute to a minute and a half, a plane goes over my house," Anthony Samartano said. "They are dead over my garage. They fly very low."

Officials said repairs and operational conditions were the prime reasons for the increase in use at Runway 22L during 2013.

Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said two of Kennedy's four runways were shut down some nights in 2013 for maintenance and repair, which shifted part of the traffic to Runway 22L. The other reason for moving traffic to Runway 22L was wind, he said.

"Last spring and into the summer, there were unusual winds around JFK, with increased intensity and an earlier-than-normal start to winds from the southeast and southwest," Marsico said.

The FAA declined to discuss the increased usage of Runway 22L at Kennedy but issued a brief statement saying the agency tries to change runways at least every eight hours.

"The FAA works with the Port Authority of NY and NJ to change runways when weather and operational conditions allow, to help reduce noise for communities around the airports," according to the statement.

Runway 22L has had its use increase since another runway was closed in 2010 to be repaved. In 2012, the FAA said "operational efficiency" and "operational safety criteria" also were factors that "may be contributing to the increased use of Runway 22L."


Airspace changes

For the past few years, the FAA has been redesigning the airspace over New York City to reduce conflicts among planes and prepare for the arrival of a satellite-based air-traffic control system, called NextGen, which would allow planes to fly closer together and chart more direct routes to their destinations.

Last year, a total of 66,158 planes used Runway 22L when they arrived at Kennedy, 5,905 more than the previous year. About half of the extra traffic, 2,882 flights, came during the daytime, and the remainder, 3,023 flights, came during the nighttime.

The Samartanos are among thousands of Nassau County residents of more than a dozen communities, including Valley Stream, New Hyde Park, Garden City and East Hills, that lie beneath Runway 22L's flight path.

The couple's perception of the frequency of planes soaring above their house is in line with data collected by the Port Authority.

For example, at least 37 planes passed over Floral Park as they landed on Runway 22L between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. on July 11, 2013, according to the Port Authority. Every few minutes, a plane flew over the village at altitudes from 1,509 feet to 1,683 feet. Thirteen minutes was the longest stretch when no plane passed over the village. On the same day, at least 29 planes passed over the village between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.

During a seven-month span between June 2013 and January of this year, Nassau residents lodged at least 6,412 complaints, an average of 30 a day.

Randie Lucano, 53, of Garden City, a mother of three who works from home, said the planes are flying over her house more often in the last two years than in the previous 10 years.

"It used to be more sporadic and never after dinner," she said.

She wishes officials at the FAA and the Port Authority would do more to cut aircraft noise, which will only get worse as air travel is expected to rise in the future.

"We need a break. We deserve a break," Lucano said. "Three minutes apart is absurd."


Signs of hope

After years of battling airplane noise and pressing officials for relief, some advocates and residents are hopeful now that state and federal officials have intervened.

In March, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered the Port Authority to take steps to manage jet engine sounds affecting neighborhoods near Kennedy and LaGuardia airports as well as those below the flight paths, and the agency held its first regular meeting in April with advocates and FAA officials to discuss the problem. The authority placed a portable monitor, the first of 16, at Monsignor Scanlan High School in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, to measure airplane noise originating from LaGuardia Airport. The agency is evaluating other potential sites near the two airports and other sites beneath flight routes where noise complaints have been widespread.

The authority is in the process of hiring consultants to help with a multiyear study that would look at the impact of aircraft noise on surrounding neighborhoods and recommend measures to mitigate the problem, which could include insulating homes.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), whose congressional district includes East Hills, has met with FAA officials and urged them to use other runways, according to his spokeswoman.

"I will continue to advocate for my constituents to ensure that their quality of life is not negatively impacted by airplane noise," he said.


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