Aviation Industry Expansion and LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building: The View from Northeast Queens

While LaGuardia Airport could surely benefit from an aesthetic upgrade, the upgrade did not have to mandate dramatic changes to the surrounding airspace.  The new Central Terminal Building comes with accompanying flight route changes that will make noise abatement a near impossibility. Mainstay departure routes like the Whitestone Climb, which had reached an altitude of 2000 feet before passing over a single residence, will increasingly give way to the “TNNIS” Climb, which strafes some 240,000 residents before reaching that same altitude.

The unadvertised purpose of the terminal upgrade is to add space for mega jets, which have a lower takeoff trajectory and closer departure threshold. For this reason, these aircraft cannot efficiently make the formerly mandatory turn over Flushing Meadows Park. They, and every subsequent plane on the same path, will be forced straight out over the neighborhoods of Flushing, Auburndale and Bayside. Because the FAA had recently graced these communities with new NextGen routes — a series of indiscriminately drawn straight lines and wide arcs over highly populated areas — these planes will be increasingly forced onto the same NextGen routes which had already been a source of outrage.

There are residents in Queens who have never used the airport. There are many more who rarely use it. When behemoths like the Airbus 380 begin crop dusting northeast Queens at 20 second intervals for 18 hours a day, many in Queens may start to question the direct benefits and unmentioned consequences of the terminal upgrade. As LaGuardia’s runway 13 continues to annex northeast Queens, at the expense of thousands of largely blue collar residents, it may even start to look like the terminal project was only initiated to better serve the itineraries of New York's burgeoning luxury class.

Fully seven of the appointed members of LaGuardia’s aviation advisory panel are rooted in New York's powerful real estate and tourism industries. The eighth and last member, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, is the sole spokesperson for the community. All we ever hear is the industry sales pitch and unsupported tales of increased fuel efficiency and reduced delays, despite a trove of peer reviewed studies indicating that the growth of the aviation industry will far outpace these efficiency improvements.

With more changes to our national airspace system over the past 3 years than in the past thirty years, many in Queens and elsewhere are starting to realize that we have reached a point of airspace saturation and we simply can’t fit in another aircraft. If cities are now dependent on the perpetual growth of the aviation industry for their economic survival, we must come to terms with a very simple concept: The aviation industry needs a lot of room to expand, and cities don’t have lots of room to spare.

Will we continually cleave off small sections of our city, piece by piece, until the collective interests of real estate, tourism and aviation are met? When will this end? How will this end?

Brian F. Will is Contract Biologist at National Marine Fisheries Service.

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