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Westchester County Airport noise gripes hit all-time low in January

Westchester County Airport is a county-owned, public-use airport

Westchester County Airport is a county-owned, public-use airport in Harrison. (April 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Siesel

Westchester County Airport has gotten a whole lot quieter, or so it seems.

Noise complaints hit a record monthly low of 12 in January, following a year in which complaints dipped below 1,000 for the first time since 1984.

A slew of factors could be contributing to the hush that has come over the World War II-era airport in recent years, according to John Inserra, the airport's noise abatement officer.

They range from federal laws forcing jets to be equipped with quieter engines to airport users adhering to voluntary midnight-6:30 a.m. quiet times. Then there's the possibility that the decline in complaints has nothing to do with it being less noisy.

"Maybe it's just that people aren't complaining," Inserra said. "Some people are just not bothered by airplane noise."

January followed what has become a predictable pattern, with most of the complaints -- eight -- coming from households in nearby Greenwich, Conn., where there are more homes and fewer buffers to block airport noise, Inserra said.

In 2012, there were 915 noise complaints, compared with 2,078 in 2011. The airport logged 161,109 flights in and out of the airport in 2012, a 2 percent drop from 2011, a decline caused largely by the departure of discount airline AirTran.

Besides commercial traffic, the county airport also has a big corporate customer base. The airport's corporate fleet -- IBM, JPMorgan Chase among them -- uses state-of-the-art jets with engines that purr, according to Inserra.

"We're fortunate to have some of the quieter jets operating out of here," he said.

Federal noise rules written during the early 1990s prohibit jets equipped with engines that exceed acceptable decibel levels from continuing to fly. Occasionally, though, Inserra said a military plane built in the 1970s might pass through on the Fourth of July, rumbling nearby neighborhoods.

Complaints in the form of calls to the airport hotline and emails to the noise abatement office typically climb during the warmer months, when homeowners start throwing open their windows, according to airport officials.

June 2012 was the year's busiest month for complaints, airport data show, a trend that has held steady dating back to 1984, when the airport began keeping track.

"By May or June, you'll see them go up again," Inserra said. "It's very predictable."

Typically, Inserra said, larger-than-usual bumps in complaints are fueled by one or two families who just can't take the noise.

"In 1997, when complaints hit an all-time high of 10,510, nearly 80 percent of the complaints came from two households in Greenwich, Inserra said.

And then they just stopped.

"After a while, some of these households, they just disappear," Inserra said. "All of a sudden, you don't hear from them anymore. You don't know if they moved away. You don't know if they changed jobs. You don't always know."

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