By Victoria Merlino
As the Federal Aviation Administration continues work to modernize flight routes, U.S. Rep Grace Meng has called for more oversight of how these changes impact aircraft noise and the quality of life for Queens residents. Aircraft noise is of great concern for a lawmaker whose district is sandwiched between two major airports.
Meng and 28 other members of Congress sent a letter on June 25 asking the U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to look into the FAA’s NextGen program, a push from the aviation agency to update the United States’ air transportation system and increase its safety, efficiency, capacity and predictability. The FAA’s website calls the program, which began in 2007, “one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in U.S. history.”
However, Meng and other members of Congress raised concerns that the new flight paths are increasing noise levels in surrounding communities.
“The impact of airplane noise on my constituents is unacceptable and continues to impact their quality of life,” Meng, a founding member and former Co-Chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus, said in a statement. “I’m pleased to be part of this letter calling on GAO to review how the FAA measures aircraft noise, how it evaluates and mitigates noise impacts, and the extent to which the FAA has worked with and responded to communities impacted by airplane noise.”
LaGuardia Airport, which is the country’s 20th busiest airport, and John F. Kennedy International Airport, which is the country’s 10th busiest airport, are located adjacent to Meng’s district. Her constituents hear noise from planes flying to and from both.
“The reality is — for those in my district — the constant bombardment of noise is unbearable,” Meng continued. “That is why, I believe it is necessary for GAO to study this issue and provide insight into how communities are affected by NextGen.”
New flight paths caused controversy in Queens in August 2018, after a study from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that prolonged exposure to loud noise could take a year off of a person’s life. The researchers used the routes from LaGuardia as a case study, the Eagle previously reported.
Residents were upset that one of the new routes utilized the “TNNIS” or “Tennis” Climb, a route that in the past had only be utilized during the U.S. Open to quiet noise over Arthur Ashe Stadium. In 2012, the FAA began to use the route year-round after finding it more efficient, in the process sending planes over some of the most densely populated areas in Queens with no research into its environmental impact, according to a statement from the Mailman School that accompanied the study.
“During U.S. Open tennis matches, the residents of certain neighborhoods in Queens had to endure heavy airplane traffic over their homes, but it only lasted a few weeks. Now, they have to contend with it year-round,” Peter Muennig, professor of Health Policy and Management at the Mailman School, said in the statement.
“This study confirms what we have believed all along, that year-round use of the Tennis Climb has a detrimental impact on the health of residents who live within its path,” Assemblymember Edward Braunstein said at the time of the study’s release.
After protests from politicians and residents, including Meng, the FAA agreed to monitor its use of the route and try to use it only when necessary, the Queens Chronicle reported last December.
NextGen has been trying to mitigate noise through programs and changes to aircraft themselves, such as engines, according to its website.
“When NextGen or other air traffic procedures are developed, we try to route flights over water, industrial areas, or other non-residential areas as much as possible,” the FAA wrote on the NextGen site. “Although NextGen procedures generally provide noise relief for a majority of people and communities, they sometimes result in flight pattern changes that can concentrate noise for some community residents who live directly under those flight paths.”
The site said the FAA is trying to engage the public more about aircraft noise.
Los Angeles is suing the FAA over NextGen and the noise from the new airplane routes, according to an LA Times article published on June 24. The lawsuit claims that the FAA did not properly study the impact of changing the flight paths, even though in 2016 the agency claimed that there would be no significant noise increase. Two other cities in California have also filed lawsuits, citing noise complaints.