2000-06-21 / Front Page

Giuliani, Shulman Sue To Block More Flights At LaGuardia

by john toscano

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Queens Borough President Claire Shulman filed a suit to stop increases in flight activity at LaGuardia airport 
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Queens Borough President Claire Shulman filed a suit to stop increases in flight activity at LaGuardia airport

Three days after Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Queens Borough President Claire Shulman filed a suit to stop increases in flight activity at LaGuardia airport because the airport can’t handle the additional load, a federal agency reported that traffic control procedures are already creating near collision conditions at the facility in western Queens.

The mayor and Shulman received strong expressions of support from Queens’ congressional delegation. Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) declared," It is simply irresponsible to consider a major increase in applications for additional flights at LaGuardia Airport without fully assessing the safety and environmental implications of added flights."

Colleagues Nita Lowey (D–Queens, Westchester) and Carolyn Maloney (D–Manhattan/Queens) voiced similar sentiments.

Lowey stated, "Additional flights would have a tremendous negative impact on residents in the area" while Maloney said that Queens is already "overwhelmed" by the present volume of activity at LaGuardia."

Queens’ other members of Congress, Anthony Weiner (Brooklyn/Queens), Nydia Velazquez (Brooklyn/Queens) and Gregory Meeks (southeast Queens) joined their colleagues in opposing the additional flights and supporting an environmental impact assessment to determine the effects of increased flights before their new slots are granted by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT).

Giuliani and Shulman filed the suit in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit amid concerns that as many as 500 additional flights a day could be added at LaGuardia if the DOT approves applications from several airlines filed under a recently enacted law. LaGuardia already accommodates 1,200 flights a day, Shulman said, which means the additional flights proposed would add another 40 percent to the flight load.

Adding weight to the scary scenarios created by the suit’s sponsors, last Friday the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in a separate action, stated in a letter that air traffic control procedures at LaGuardia do not provide enough separation between departing and arriving aircraft on intersecting runways.

The NTSB letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported on the safety board’s investigation of a near collision on April 3rd, 1998, which had prompted the FAA to launch an effort to retrain air traffic controllers across the country.

NTSB said LaGuardia controllers cannot clear an aircraft to depart from Runway 31 if an approaching turbojet is within two miles of Runway 22. That spacing is not enough, the NTSB letter said, and it recommended that the FAA increase the spacing, which would also increase the time involved. This is where the NTSB fundings impact on increasing the amount of flight activity.

The possible increase in flights at LaGuardia resulted from passage of the Wendell Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (FAIR-21) which was supported by local lawmakers because it extended the High Density Rule (HDR) at LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports until 2007. Under the HDR, the number of flights by larger aircraft are set at a fixed number.

However, FAIR-21 also allows the DOT to approve more flights by smaller airplanes, those holding up to 71 passengers. This provision was included to expand service between New York, Washington and Chicago to smaller cities; in New York State the targeted cities are upstate which have suffered from poor service and high fares because of the small number of flights

Additional flights are also planned at JFK, but the suit was brought only to protect LaGuardia because operations are so crowded already.

In the last two months, several airlines have filed applications to add flights under FAIR-21. They would total about 500, Shulman said, which alarmed her and the mayor, as well as local congressmembers.

A spokesman for Shulman said the Borough President was "concerned that 150,000 Queens residents live near LaGuardia airport and they are already inundated with air and noise pollution. that’s why an environmental assessment is so necessary–because of these factors."

The Giuliani–Shulman suit calls on DOT to hold in abeyance any applications for additional LaGuardia flights until DOT completes a thorough and comprehensive environmental impact study.

As things now stand, according to Maloney, "The DOT has indicated that it will allow many of the applications for flights requested under FAIR-21 to go forward without environmental review. This legal action provides further strength to our argument that these (environmental) reviews must occur before there is any further consideration of increases."

Shulman said, "I don’t think we can afford to wait to find out how terrible it is."

A spokesman for the DOTdeclined to comment on the Giuliani–Shulman suit, but pointed out that in exempting smaller planes from the high density rule, FAIR-21 wanted to increase small plane flights quickly, so environmental impact studies were not required.

But Shulman said through her spokesman that the language of the new law "supports the finding that Congress intended any new flight activity at each of the airports would have to comport with applicable environmental laws and be subjected to environmental testing."

Proponents of FAIR-21 also pointed out that all airlines seeking more flights to smaller cities would be required to use the quietest planes available. Reportedly, many airlines plan to phase in their new service over several months or years.

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