Area residents impacted by what they argue is escalating noise from aircraft flying into and out of Westchester County Airport had a chance last week to address questions and concerns to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airport officials.
Several hundred residents packed the New Castle Community Center in Chappaqua last Wednesday evening to speak directly to more than a dozen airport and FAA representatives. The two-hour forum allowed the public to visit a series of stations each manned by an aviation expert rather than hear a conventional presentation followed by questions from the audience.
FAA Regional Director Jennifer Solomon said the goal for last week’s event was to help the public understand the air space near where they live and the many variables that go into the decisions made by the agency and air traffic controllers to make sure that the skies around the airport are safe.
“We work with communities to figure out what is going on and then get a sense from the aviation community about what our options are,” said FAA Regional Director Jennifer Solomon. “You have in Westchester a really robust noise abatement program and so you have people who are figuring out what they can do to try and work with the communities, and the FAA is one part of that. We’re one part of the connection. We have an ongoing dialogue in the community, with the airport, with the stakeholders to figure out how we can fly safely and neighborly.”
The event was arranged by county officials after a surge in noise complaints from residents during the past three years in several neighboring communities that are in the takeoff or landing path. Some of the most strenuous complaints have come from Chappaqua.
Michael Wold, manager of Westchester County Airport’s traffic control tower, said one of the biggest changes over the past several years is the increase of the use of Runway 16 for landings. Runway 16’s approach to the airport is from the north and flies over a portion of Chappaqua and Pleasantville, he said.
It is typically used when the winds shift from a southeasterly direction, he said. In recent years in the summer that happens most afternoons, Wold said.
During the five-year period from 2013 to 2018, he estimated a 17 percent increase in the use of Runway 16.
“The aircraft are getting quieter every year, they’re flying at the same altitude they always have, they’re not any lower or faster and there’s a sharply greater traffic flow to the southeast,” Wold said. “The prevailing wind direction in the afternoon has been out of the southeast day after almost every day in the summer.”
While a first report from consultant HMMH, retained by the county last year to study issues connected with the airport, cited a decline in overall airport operations, Chappaqua resident Gina Maccoby is one of many local residents who have said that hasn’t translated into quieter conditions. Living in the same residence at Chappaqua Ridge for the last 28 years, she has noticed a change for the worse the past few years, she said.
The noise is particularly problematic in the warm weather months, when Maccoby said she is outside much more frequently or has her windows open. She called on decision-makers responsible for the flight patterns to spread the concentration of noise to other locations.
“There must be days when it’s pretty still, and on those days, flights should be shifted to a different path or to a different runway,” Maccoby said. “I don’t know but we can’t all bear the brunt of it.”
Conversely, another local resident who attended the open house, Anthony Suozzi of Mount Pleasant, said he hears the plane traffic overhead but he’s much more disturbed by other noise, most notably neighbors’ use of leaf blowers.
New Castle Councilman Jeremy Saland, who attended the forum, said one unknown is how much the FAA and the airport factor in noise and air pollution as opposed to concerns regarding safety. He also mentioned he didn’t see solutions offered last week to having a more equitable distribution of air traffic in the area.
Saland, who was grateful that the county scheduled the meeting, said it served as a valuable educational tool for some attendees but frustrated others unable to get adequate answers to questions.
A county spokesperson said there will be follow-up in the near future to determine what the next steps will be in addressing the issue.