The Examiner

Business Group: Airport Noise Complaints Come From Few Residents

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John Ravitz, chief operating officer for the Business Council of Westchester, points out startling statistics about noise complaints at Westchester Airport.

Westchester’s largest business organization presented statistics last week showing a colossal spike in noise complaints lodged against Westchester Airport dating back to last year but most of those were registered by relatively few households.

John Ravitz, the chief operating officer for the Business Council of Westchester (BCW), said in the one-year period from May 2017 to May 2018 complaints skyrocketed more than 6,600 percent. Ravitz questioned whether public discussion of the airport’s future and it being a key issue in last year’s county executive’s race are the reasons behind the extreme jump.

“We as an organization, we as residents of Westchester County, we want to understand what noise complaints there are, we want to be able to address them and hold people accountable,” Ravitz said. “The airlines need to be held accountable if there are issues to be resolved with legitimate noise complaints.”

To highlight the council’s argument, Ravitz said the organization obtained statistics from the county’s monthly Airport Monitor that reported 51 noise complaints lodged from 21 households in May 2017 in communities in close proximity to the airport. In January 2017, there had been only 38 complaints.

However, during the course of the next 12 months the number of complaints each month exploded, jumping to 200 in July 2017, to 712 in September and more than 1,800 each in October and November 2017 and January 2018.

In May 2018, the last month official statistics have been released, there were 3,425 complaints but from only 87 households. Just four households in Armonk accounted for 2,033 of the complaints, followed by 36 households lodging 783 complaints in Pleasantville. Another four households in Purchase registered 336 complaints and 21 Chappaqua households submitted 210 complaints, easily the four communities with the highest number.

Meanwhile, there were more than 1,700 fewer flights – 14,602 to 12,867 – when comparing May 2017 to May 2018.

Ravitz said while credible noise complaints must be taken seriously, the statistics shed new light on the issue. He said those homeowners should allow monitors to be placed on their property.

“We want noise complaints to be addressed, we want legitimate noise complaints for the communities that we serve in to have the proper oversight and the proper enforcement, if necessary,” Ravitz said. “But it’s hard to legitimize real complaints when you see these types of numbers because it skews everything.”

“This is us having to say, let’s look at these numbers and let’s see where they’re coming from and what’s really going on in this community,” said Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of the BCW.

Last summer, the BCW formed the Coalition for Westchester, which is comprised of some of its member businesses. The organization has supported having an outside company operate the airport and wants enhancement of the facility since it is such an important engine for the county’s economy.

Peter Schlactus, a spokesman for the Coalition to Prevent Westchester Airport Expansion and a member of the county’s Airport Advisory Board, said the numbers of residents who have complained are misleading because historically no changes have come from the objections so people stop reporting noise problems. There are others who aren’t aware of how to file a noise complaint and will suffer in silence while other residents repeatedly report out of frustration.

“There are people who have dedicated themselves to showing just how frequent, bothersome and painful the episodes have become,” Schlactus said.

Several outspoken area residents who have reported sharp increases in aircraft traffic in the past year or two, questioned the BCW’s motives. Chappaqua resident Suzanne Chazin said it appears the noise problem is being dismissed by the organization as a “couple of cranks” complaining rather than a larger problem.

From about Memorial Day weekend through summer, it is now impossible to sit outside on Friday and Sunday afternoons and evenings, she said.

“I’ve lived in the same house for 20 years. It’s only been a problem, I’d say, for the last three, so it’s not like I just discovered something,” Chazin said. “This is a change.”

Mara Van Fleet, another Chappaqua resident, said it’s not just the frequency of flights, which have increased, it appears the aircraft are approaching lower and are larger. Van Fleet said she tracked 158 flights last Friday that flew over or near her house. Some of the planes were only two minutes apart.

“It’s just feels like a free-for-all in the sky,” she said.

Jonathan Wang, a Purchase resident and co-founder of Executive Director of Citizens for a Responsible County Airport as well as a member of the county Airport Advisory Board, said the BCW has aviation interests, including private carriers Million Air and Skyqueen Enterprises that are part of the coalition. Wang said that non-commercial aviation accounts for more than 80 percent of the flight traffic.

Ravitz said he applauded County Executive George Latimer for following through on securing about $4 million for the runway repaving project next year. He said the Airport Advisory Board went as far as to propose a resolution to halt all capital expenditures at the airport until the master plan supplement is complete.  Wang responded the resolution was tabled by the advisory board and never approved.

A spokesperson for Latimer said the schedule has that project ready to go out to bid in February.

Ravitz said the BCW does not support airport expansion but airport enhancement because it is such a vital transportation hub.

“Let’s keep our eye on the prize and the eye on the prize is enhancing Westchester Airport,” he said. “It’s good for the business community, the neighboring community and the travel community.

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