Upper West Side Wants To Quiet the Skies
Upper West Siders have been enjoying the relative peace and quiet that the post–Sept. 11 air-travel slowdown has afforded them-and they want more. On Jan. 3, members of Community Board 7 voted unanimously to approve a resolution that urges the Port Authority and state and federal officials to eliminate, once and for all, the air traffic over those Upper West Side neighborhoods that encompass the board’s district.
While holiday travel this season was down substantially (an estimated 2.2 million people passed through the New York area’s three major airports, compared to 2.7 million last year), Board 7 members say that the traffic overhead is still out of control.
It’s easy to forget the rapid increases in air travel pre–Sept. 11: According to a recent Board 7 resolution, La Guardia Airport alone saw a rise of 159 scheduled flights between 1996 and 2001.
Instead of eliciting the usual patriotic outcries for a return to normalcy, the post–Sept. 11 drop in air travel has Board 7 members not so secretly hoping that the decline will play a key role in ending their long battle to silence the heavens above. In their resolution, the board asked that the Federal Aviation Administration continue its post–Sept. 11 policy of rerouting air traffic to and from Newark and La Guardia airports over the water instead of “traversing the skies over [the board's] densely populated neighborhood.” Though the post-holiday haze made for a sparsely attended meeting, the resolution’s approval drew loud applause from the audience and board members alike.
Not everyone was entirely satisfied, though. Lorraine Heilweil, a longtime neighborhood resident, told The Observer she didn’t think the resolution went far enough because it didn’t include helicopters in its definition of aircraft. “The [board's] transportation committee doesn’t think helicopters should be included because they say you have to take it one step at a time with the F.A.A.; they’re not interested in what the community has to say about it. The F.A.A. is the most backward government organization there is,” Ms. Heilweil said.
Andrew Albert, Board 7’s transportation-committee chairman, explained the exclusion of helicopter noise from the resolution as a pragmatic bow to arcane F.A.A. rules that stipulate separate jurisdictions for helicopters and airplanes. Still, he agreed with Ms. Heilweil and other members of the community that noise pollution and safety concerns should overrule any further stalling on the issue by the F.A.A. “When you see the number of flyovers that the Port Authority has mapped out in our area, it is just outrageous,” Mr. Albert said.
In a telephone interview with The Observer , Jim Peters, a spokesman for the F.A.A., countered the board’s assertions about heavy air traffic. He pointed out that F.A.A. flight-traffic direction is determined as much by the volume of flights as by the direction of the wind on any given day. “At this point, the F.A.A. has no plans to change the current routes over New York,” Mr. Peters said.
Board 7 members are nonetheless hopeful that their Jan. 7 meeting with representatives from Senator Charles Schumer’s office and a follow-up conference with Port Authority officials in the coming weeks will result in a serious overhaul of current flight patterns over Manhattan. “What we hope to do is get into a movement with other community boards, and maybe even move this to an all-borough board resolution,” Mr. Albert said.
Jan. 9: Board 4, Hudson Guild Fulton Center, 119 Ninth Avenue, 6 p.m., 736-4536; Board 6, N.Y.U. Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, Classroom A, 7 p.m., 319-3750.
Jan. 10: Board 5, Fashion Institute of Technology, 227 West 27th Street, Building A, eighth floor, 6 p.m., 465-0907.
Jan. 15: Board 11, All Saints Church, 47 East 129th Street, 6:30 p.m., 831-8929.
Jan. 16: Board 8, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, 430 East 67th Street, in the auditorium, 7 p.m., 758-4340.