FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 4, 2007

Schumer Grills DOT Over Airspace Redesign Plan - Demands Sufficient Answers To Westchester And Rockland Concerns

Schumer Issues 7 Questions to the DOT Concerning New Flight Patterns over Rockland and Westchester Counties - Including How Routes were Selected and Whether Alternative Routes Were Given Short Shrift

Airspace Redesign Plan Set to go into Effect As Early As September will Bring an Increase in Air Traffic Over Sections of Westchester and Rockland Counties

Schumer: It's Essential that the FAA Properly Address Local Concerns before Implementing Final Redesign Plan

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer demanded that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) adequately address concerns raised by Rockland and Westchester county residents on how the new Airspace Redesign Plan will affect the region’s quality of life. While the plan is designed to reduce plane congestion in the Tri-state area, it creates new flight paths for aircrafts over Rockland and Westchester counties which are expected to usher in a spike in noise and pollution over residential neighborhoods.


Schumer today called the FAA’s plan premature and issued 7 questions to the agency that he said would address issues and concerns raised by local residents. In addition, Schumer, in his letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, blasted the FAA for failing to hold additional meetings despite repeated requests by local residents and leaders.


“Plain and simple, this plan is premature because it fails to properly address valid concerns raised by Westchester and Rockland county residents,” said Senator Schumer. “I expect the DOT to answer the questions I issued today in a timely and sufficient manner so local residents can have more confidence that the agency is taking their concerns into consideration.”


The FAA Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Metropolitan Area is the first airspace redesign project for the region in nearly 50 years.  The FAA’s goal is to achieve the highest levels of safety and the most efficient airspace design for customer operations by reviewing and reworking domestic and oceanic airspace.  The final version of this study has been delivered to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and was officially published in the Federal Register Friday, August 3. 


Upon this publication NEPA requires that a 30 day comment period be held for those affected by the plan to voice all remaining concerns.  As the final step in the NEPA process, the FAA will release a Record of Decision (ROD) which includes issues raised during the comment period.  Implementation of the redesign plan may begin once the ROD is released.  


Limited analysis by Westchester County indicates there will be significant noise increases throughout Westchester, particularly in Yonkers, Hawthorne, Thornwood, Peekskill, North Salem, Pound Ridge and Chappaqua. Though the county was able to submit comments on two separate occasions, it has repeatedly asked for additional data to continue its analysis only to receive it at the eleventh hour, or not at all.


The FAA’s plan includes a new flight path over Rockland County to handle Newark Liberty International Airport arrivals, potentially leading to an average of 600 flights flying over the county each day.  The majority of the flights would travel in a corridor which runs between Suffern and Hillcrest and includes Wesley Hills, Montebello, Kaser, Monsey, Chestnut Ridge and Pearl River.  Local residents are concerned that with planes flying as low as 6,000-8,000 feet above the ground, communities in Ramapo and Orangetown will experience a significant rise in noise levels. Many people believe that having so many planes flying overhead could lead to an overall reduction in the quality of life. 


Schumer today wrote to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters expressing serious concern about the impacts that the Airspace Redesign Plan will have on Westchester and Rockland Counties. While Schumer has long called for the FAA to alleviate airport congestion with a congestion mitigation plan and through the recruitment of additional air traffic controllers, today he wrote, “I am seriously concerned, however, with some of the recommendations found in the FAA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).”


Schumer believes that the FAA has not adequately taken into account the concerns of residents in Westchester and Rockland Counties regarding the effects that the proposed changes will have on their overall quality of life and the area’s natural environment.  Schumer demanded that the concerns be addressed prior to the implementation of the Airspace Redesign Plan, and issued the following 7 questions:


1.      Did planners consider raising the altitude ceiling over Rockland and Westchester Counties to mitigate increased noise?


2.      How is the FAA incorporating continuous descent approach patterns into the requirements over Rockland and Westchester Counties as a way to decrease noise pollution for local residents?


3.      When exploring options for the flight path over Rockland County, why didn’t the planners develop a flight pattern to the west in order to minimize the impact to local communities?  How did planners decide that the current Rockland flight path provides the minimal negative impact on the environment and quality of life for local residents? What are the relative costs and benefits of a more westerly flight pattern?


4.      What direct outreach was done to residents in Westchester and Rockland Counties to make them aware of the increase in noise, pollution, and planes flying overhead?  Were notices mailed directly to residents clearly explaining how the Airspace Redesign would affect them? Were public notices posted in local newspapers and with local municipal governments? If not, why?


5.      How did planners study the option of routing flights over the Long Island Sound?  Given the obvious lower impacts on various communities, why wasn’t this chosen as the best alternative?


6.      How was the allocation of additional resources to hire more air traffic controllers considered as a way to alleviate air congestion?  Why wasn’t this used as an alternative?


7.      What did planners conclude regarding the option of flight patterns along the Hudson River?



“After multiple requests to the FAA, the agency has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the concerns of residents in communities adversely affected by the Airspace Redesign Plan. It is my hope, on behalf of the residents of Rockland and Westchester counties, that these questions are answered before any implementation,” added Schumer.


Schumer has repeatedly called on the FAA to ensure that local concerns are adequately expressed and considered in the Airspace Redesign Project.  In early July, he sent a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to schedule additional meetings in the New York metropolitan area in order to hear the concerns of local residents.  In his letter he expressed that he understood that the priority of the redesign project was efficiency, but that the FAA could not overlook the fact that increased efficiency and increased traffic would mean an increase in air traffic noise and pollution for many communities in Rockland Counties.


In July of this year, Schumer called for Blakey's resignation due to her inability to effectively lead the FAA.  Today, Schumer wrote to Secretary Peters in an attempt to secure firm leadership and hard answers on this aviation-related issue.