Noise, Economic Viability Key Concerns at First Airport Meeting

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Westchester County officials listened to more than two dozen speakers last week at the first session of its airport Master Plan meetings. Comments from the series of meetings are expected help with the first updated plan for the facility in more than 30 years.

Speakers at the first forum to discuss the future of Westchester County Airport last week were split between residents urging for environmental and noise safeguards and aviation and business interests highlighting the facility’s vital economic importance.

The May 24 hearing at Pace University School of Law in White Plains featured 27 speakers over about 90 minutes who provided testimony that will help county officials shape the airport’s first updated Master Plan since 1989. Another two forums will be held the next two Thursday evenings, June 2 and June 9, while a virtual session and additional in-person meetings will be scheduled elsewhere in the county later this summer or early fall.

Many of the skeptical residents who spoke pointed out that aircraft noise has increased in recent years, likely from the proliferation in flights by fixed-base operators, and the need for greater protections for the Rye Lake and Kensico reservoirs, which are in close proximity to the airport.

Mount Pleasant resident Bob Levy, who said his quality of life has been degraded from the excessive noise, contended that the fixed-base operators frequently violated the voluntary midnight curfew and provide few if any of the economic benefits to residents and local communities.

“Quite frankly, the charter companies don’t care, and unless we can do something and put it in the Master Plan, they’re not going to care,” Levy said. “They are bad actors.”

Anne Gold, executive director of the Purchase Environmental Protection Association, said environmental impacts such as water quality, noise and air pollution must be addressed.

“Given the goals of the Master Plan is to maintain a high level of safety and environmentally responsible service over the next decade or so, the vision should outline several steps to prevent negative impacts for the future,” Gold said.

Aviation representatives called on county officials to keep the facility competitive compared to other regional airports if it is to properly serve the local residential and business communities. Eric Faulkner, vice president and general manager of Ross Aviation, said airports in the tristate area such as Farmingdale Airport on Long Island have opened as much as 200,000 square feet of new hangar space in the past few years while Westchester has had just 52,000 square feet of new space in the past 20 years.

As a result, private carriers must come in from elsewhere to pick up passengers creating a greater disturbance than if they could be housed at the airport, he said.

“This is because it not only significantly limits the number of aircrafts at Westchester, but it increases the number of flights into and out of the airport each day,” Faulkner said.

White Plains resident and public relations company owner Stacy Cohen said the county must do what it can to keep the airport viable. In recent years, Cohen’s company, Co-Communications, has had increasing reach outside of the area, which has necessitated her and her employees to travel more.

“As a member of the business community, I strongly believe that the airport is such a vital component to business in Westchester and it’s truly an important economic driver,” she said.

Representatives of several Westchester hotels also testified that guests have increasingly depended on the airport to visit and do business in the county.

The county’s consultant, Merchant Aviation, stated that the airport generates about $735 million in economic activity annually, employs close to 1,500 people, and serves as many as one million passengers a year.

County Executive George Latimer said the Master Plan update will not expand the airport’s 700-acre footprint nor increase the 240-passenger limit for the main terminal.

But some residents, uneasy about the changes in private flights and noise over the past five or six years, appealed to county officials to do more to clamp down where possible. Longtime Chappaqua resident Richard Stern said while having company over in his backyard recently there were 11 flights that roared over his house in one hour.

At an event in downtown Chappaqua last year, speakers were interrupted by seven consecutive planes that flew overhead minutes apart, Stern said.

Another resident, Jason Van Anden, said he understands the need for a viable airport but the county must address the noise issue.

“I’m all for modernization as well and it’s not like we don’t take the occasional flight out of Westchester Airport, but I have to say that the increase and the noise is nuts,” he said.

John Wellington, chairman of the Westchester Aviation Association, said that changes in weather patterns and other factors have caused more flights to hook to the south and use a different approach on landings in recent years. However, the airport is doing its best to limit disturbance and protect the environment.

“The airport is doing everything it can to be a good neighbor and people should make sure they understand that,” Wellington said.

This Thursday’s meeting will be at Manhattanville College, located at 2900 Purchase Ave. in Purchase. The June 9 meeting is at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry. Both meetings are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

For more information on the Master Plan effort, visit www.HPNMasterPlan.com

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