Please join us at the upcoming public hearing on Westchester County’s airport master plan at:
June 6, 7:00 pm
Rye Brook Village Hall
938 King Street
Rye Brook, NY 10573
The master plan describes the county’s vision for the future of the airport. Therefore, it is critically important that community members appear and speak at this hearing in order to stop and roll back the airport’s assault on our quality of life. We believe concerned citizens should frame their comments with the impact of the airport on their lives. If you have been woken up by an airplane, make that known. If you have had to cancel social events because of noise, speak up. If you are concerned about the invisible air and water pollution that the airport creates in our communities, say so.
The public should also advance a vision for what the new master plan should contain. We encourage concerned citizens to echo our below policy suggestions or to use them as a starting point for their comments.
Westchester County Airport is unique. It is located next to the water supply for over nine million people in Westchester and NYC. It is also located in a residential area whose citizens expect and deserve the quiet enjoyment of their homes. The airport’s air, water, and noise pollution represent important public health issues. While the health dangers of air and water pollution are obvious, a growing body of research shows that noise pollution also has negative health and cognitive effects, including on cardiovascular health and learning.
We believe the county’s master plan should:
- Reject any increase in airport capacity
- Reject airline terminal improvements until airlines consent to enforceable commitments to honor the voluntary curfew and to adhere to noise abatement procedures
- Describe increases in environmental protections to make Westchester County Airport the most environmentally friendly airport in the nation
- Consider reductions in the length and load bearing capacity of runways
- Review noise abatement procedures and consider a formal Runway Use Program to make noise abatement procedures mandatory
The master plan should explicitly reject any expansion of airport capacity. Federal law currently prohibits the county from enforcing restrictions on the type, timing, volume, or flight paths of aircraft using the airport. As such, overall airport capacity is one of the few tools the county has to limit the airport’s environmental impact. Such a plan would also be consistent with the Board of Legislators’ Resolution 245-2003 stating that “the policy of the Westchester County Board of Legislators is and continues to be one of supporting no increase in the total capacity of the Airport’s runways, taxiways, ramps, gates, hangars, terminal, motor vehicle parking areas, or access roads, in order that we may protect our fragile environment, including the drinking water for almost nine million people.” Indeed, this resolution would be better honored if the master plan reflected a decrease in capacity back to 2003 levels.
Capacity must be considered broadly. Signing new leases with charter operators or FBOs is undoubtedly an increase in capacity. Lifting restrictions on FBOs, like the increase in maximum weight allowed by the 2016 Million Air lease, is an increase in capacity. Increasing the load bearing capacity of ramps, taxiways, or runways is an increase in capacity. Modifying taxiways to reduce congestion, as envisioned by the Astorino master plan, is also an increase in capacity as this would increase the maximum frequency of aircraft operations and thus the total number of aircraft using the airport. Frequency is already excessive as aircraft can be scheduled to operate every 90 seconds during peak periods, like on holiday weekends. Residents have a right to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, especially on holidays and weekends, without being interrupted every 90 seconds by aircraft noise.
Aviation interests have often claimed that building new facilities will reduce the number of flights. We are skeptical of this claim, seeing as how flights have continued to increase despite recent deals with FlexJet and Million Air to open new facilities. Even if these promises were made in good faith, the reality is that current federal law makes them unenforceable. Therefore, the county should refuse to pursue any development unless it is able to hold aviation interests accountable to their promises. It should encourage aviation interests to help it lobby for changes in federal law to make this possible.
Westchester is primarily a residential community. The county should be preserving the quality of life of its residents, who pay some of the highest property taxes in the country for the privilege of living here. Aviation interests’ claims that airport development is important to the economic health of the county are greatly exaggerated. Past limits on development, like the refusal of the county to construct a hangar for GE in 1998, did not cause the company to leave the area. The Terminal Use Restrictions have been in place for decades and have not prevented airlines from serving the airport. While the negative environmental impacts of the airport are obvious and a certainty, aviation interests have not demonstrated that further development will provide significant benefits to the county. Furthermore, the airport’s environmental harms are already having a negative effect on property values and thus on the county’s property tax revenue. This should be more alarming than any threat of lost economic activity given that property taxes are the county’s largest source of revenue.
Airline Terminal Improvements
With respect to the airline terminal, the county should not pursue any improvements without extracting enforceable restrictions on operations from the airlines. A commitment to respect the voluntary curfew would be a start. Delta currently schedules two daily flights that depart before 6:30 a.m., in violation of the curfew. JetBlue, Delta, and American Airlines all schedule daily flights to arrive late at night shortly before midnight. Airline delays often cause these flights to arrive after the curfew. Airlines could commit to fly less polluting aircraft (on an absolute basis, not per passenger), minimize speed on departure & approach, install noise reducing devices, and delay extending landing gear and flaps to minimize noise. Airlines should agree to honor the TUR on all days out of the year instead of being able to ignore it during holiday periods when residents most need the quiet enjoyment of their homes with friends and family. There has been no punishment for the airlines’ bad behavior to date. The county should not provide a free giveaway in the form of terminal improvements until the airlines do something for us.
The master plan should describe projects that will make Westchester County Airport the most environmentally friendly airport in the country.
The master plan should include the airport’s groundwater monitoring program. The importance of this program has only been highlighted by the discovery that PFOS & PFOA is leaching from under the airport into neighboring private wells. The groundwater monitoring program should be expanded to include all harmful pollutants that might reasonably be found at airports, including PFOA & PFOS.
Stormwater runoff should be better controlled to protect both the Kensico Reservoir and Blind Brook / Long Island Sound. The master plan should consider improvements to the deicing fluid collection system and stormwater retention basins to minimize the amount and rate of deicing fluid escaping into our watersheds. Additionally, the master plan should consider the use of deicing fluid by private aviation and the county should mandate that any such deicing take place in a manner that maximizes the collection of used deicing fluid.
Air pollution caused by aircraft is a health hazard. A 2014 study showed that hazardous air pollutants from aircraft extended at least 10 miles from LAX. The county should, for the first time, evaluate the extent and the health effects of air pollution caused by aircraft using HPN. In preparation for this study, the master plan should include the installation of air emissions monitors at the airport and in surrounding communities. These monitors could be co-located with the airport’s remote noise monitoring network.
The master plan should reflect the airport’s excellent location for solar PV electric generation. Conditions for solar PV are nearly ideal because the airport must be kept clear of trees and occupies a large amount of flat land. In addition to the roofs of buildings at the airport, empty ground space should be evaluated for solar PV potential. Such an installation would need to be approved by the FAA, but airport solar projects are increasingly common. Solar panels can even be installed in close alignment with runways, like at Chattanooga, TN. The area between runway 11/29 and taxiways C, L, and F, for example, would support 4 to 5 MW of installed capacity generating 6 to 8 GWh of electricity per year. Solar PV could also be a source of operating revenue to the county. The county should own & operate any solar panels installed at the airport through its general account while paying the airport account for use of the land to comply with FAA rules on revenue diversion. The value of the produced electricity will likely be greater than the fair market value for the use of airport land and rooftops.
The master plan should include a comprehensive, state of the art noise monitoring system with a view towards an eventual Part 161 application for binding noise restrictions. The existing system does not reflect changes in land use, flight paths, and types of aircraft using the airport since the last update in 2000. Additionally, we have observed the existing system misclassify aircraft noise as community noise or miss noise events altogether. An updated noise monitoring system should report data that better reflects the perceived noise impact by including metrics like SENEL (Single Event Noise Exposure Level) and average noise over short periods of time (such as the peak 5, 15, and 30 minute DNL / CNEL). Placement of the noise monitors should also be guided by residents’ noise complaints to investigate the cause of those complaints. Basing placement solely on a computer model will tend to confirm the model rather than reveal its inaccuracies.
Reductions in Runways
The largest aircraft using HPN are private jets. Very large airliners such as the 737-700, 737-800 and 757-200 have been outfitted for private use and are the largest and noisiest aircrdaft using our airport. Reductions in the length and/or weight bearing capacity of runway 16/34 could make HPN unattractive to these operators while having no impact on typical users of the airport. The county should consider this action in order to encourage these operators to go to large airports in the region more suited to their size and environmental impact – like JFK, Newark, or Teterboro.
The frequency of aircraft operations during peak periods is unacceptable. Residents should not have to deal with the air, noise, and water pollution of large aircraft flying overhead every 90 seconds for hours at a time. These peak periods tend to be on Friday and Sunday nights – precisely when residents are trying to enjoy time with family and friends in their homes. The master plan should consider modifications to the airport’s runways and taxiways to reduce peak capacity in order to spread out aircraft operations to an acceptable level.
Noise Abatement Procedures & Runway Use Program
The airport’s noise abatement procedures are dated. The procedures for helicopters were last revised in 2010, and the procedures for large aircraft were last revised in 2001. These should be reviewed to determine if they still represent best practices given changes in land use, noise research, and the types of aircraft using the airport. The county should commission an independent study to evaluate noise abatement procedures rather than using procedures developed by the NBAA, a business jet advocacy & lobbying group.
The master plan should consider the development of a formal Runway Use Program with the FAA. Such a program would likely provide meaningful reductions in noise, both by making noise abatement procedures mandatory and by making noise abatement a factor in runway selection. Air traffic control is currently indifferent to the airport’s noise pollution. Developing a formal Runway Use Program would enlist air traffic control in ensuring pilots minimize their noise.
The Astorino Master Plan and DY Consulting
We have previously written about the many flaws in the master plan that the county prepared under former County Executive Rob Astorino. Those criticisms remain valid today. Our 2-page flyer contains a succinct list of criticisms. For more in depth reading, see our page dedicated to the master plan and our white paper. We understand the Latimer administration’s desire to submit Astorino’s master plan to avoid an FAA fine. However, the county must take actions to discredit any claims that the Astorino plan represents the county or the public’s vision for the airport. It is not enough for the county to submit the plan without prejudice – it must highlight the plan’s glaring flaws and internal contradictions. In particular, the county should highlight the fact that no public input was incorporated into the plan and the broad public opposition to the plan. The Astorino administration admitted that the “public had no input in the development of the master plan” before the July 27, 2017 public hearing. That public hearing unveiled widespread opposition to Astorino’s plan from community members and elected officials. Even so, there has been no evidence that any changes were made to the Astorino plan as a result.
The selection of a consultant to write the master plan should include consideration of the quality and character of their past work. Other communities around the country have commissioned airport master plans that put the environment first. Westchester should engage those governments for recommendations. In particular, the shoddy work DY Consulting did on the Astorino plan after being paid $1.4 million should disqualify them from working on the new plan.