The Business Council of Westchester’s Coalition for Westchester County Airport today exposed critical data showing that only a handful of households accounted for a 6,616 percent year-over-year increase in noise complaints at the airport.
Specifically, noise complaints spiked from 51 in May 2017 to 3,425 in May 2018. Yet of those 3,425 complaints, astoundingly 2,033 came from just four households in Armonk, according to the most recently published Westchester County Airport Monitor reports.
“If we want to have an open conversation about the airport, then we must be honest about what is happening there,” said John Ravitz, chief operating officer of the BCW. “We, too, are concerned about airport noise and all legitimate complaints must and are being taken seriously. But when analyzing the data, the numbers speak for themselves. The time has come to add clarity to the conversation.”
The Coalition for Westchester Airport formed in August 2018 to help separate the myths from the facts about the airport. The Coalition is comprised of businesses large and small, as well as labor organizations, educators and nonprofits. Taking a balanced approach to “enhance, not expand” the airport, the Coalition represents the interests of the traveling community, the business community and the neighboring community.
During a press conference held at the BCW headquarters in Rye Brook on Thursday, the Coalition presented data and uncovered trends as revealed in the Airport Monitor, a monthly county report that tracks noise and other pertinent information about the airport’s operations.
In its research, the Coalition said that noise complaint data immediately drew its attention.
For example, the data clearly show that noise complaints – which had remained under 100 per month in 2016 and the first half of 2017 – suddenly began to spike in the summer of 2017. The increase noticeably tracked the race for Westchester County Executive during which the future of the airport was discussed extensively by both candidates. The calls jumped from 51 in May 2017 to 1,822 in October 2017 heading into the November election.
As seen in the chart below, total monthly noise complaints were as follows in 2017: 38 in January; 47 in February; 51 in March; 48 in April; 51 in May; 85 in June; 200 in July; 299 in August; 712 in September; 1,822 in October; 1,807 in November; 1,743 in December.
“Historically it is the case that noise complaints rise when the airport is a topic of public discourse,” Ravitz said. “If you look at past data through history as a guide, you see the spiking of complaints when the airport is in the news.”
At the same time, the Airport Monitor reports show that total aircraft operations increased only modestly from 2016 to 2017, tracking the same seasonal patterns with no changes in flight patterns. See chart below.
In addition, while annual noise complaints for 2017 totaled 6,903, data obtained by the Coalition through October 2018 show that noise complaints have already hit a whopping 26,882 for the year – a 156 percent increase over the previous annual record of 10,510 set in 1997. Moreover, an average of just 29 households per month registered all of the complaints in 2018, with a handful of homes registering thousands of complaints each month.
In another example of noise complaints tracking public discourse about the airport, monthly complaints reached a record high of 4,359 in July 2018, coinciding with County Executive George Latimer’s public forums in Rye Brook, Armonk and West Harrison, the Westchester communities that border the airport.
Interestingly, the Airport Monitor also reports noise levels gathered from 22 remote Noise Monitoring Terminals positioned in locations surrounding the airport. The monitoring sites collect data for both community (ambient) noise and aircraft noise. The data show that while noise levels fluctuate from month to month and site to site, aircraft noise in nearly all cases has been lower than community noise.
Airport Advisory Board
Responding in large part to noise concerns, County Executive Latimer in June 2018 appointed four new members to the Westchester County Airport Advisory Board. The Advisory Board is tasked with making recommendations to county government based on the findings of its meetings and discussions with parties interested in the airport. The Advisory Board consists of 11 members, including eight residents appointed by the County Executive, one member of the Board of Legislators, and two ex officio county commissioners.
Since then, the Advisory Board has taken a more activist role in the discussions, presenting a series of resolutions that the Coalition believes would severely impair airport operations – and in some instances, which pose serious safety risks.
In particular, one of the Advisory Board’s recent resolutions calls for the cessation of all airport maintenance, stating: “THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Westchester County Airport Advisory Board calls on the County to halt all capital spending on aviation facilities, including runways, taxiways, ramps, gates, hangars, terminal, and motor vehicle parking areas until the master plan supplement is complete.”
“This is a matter of basic public safety. Runways simply must be paved. This is not only uninformed, but irresponsible,” Ravitz said. “The resolution was tabled at the last meeting, but the Advisory Board must realize that their words have consequences. The Coalition applauds the County Executive for including $4 million in his Capital Budget for runway repaving.”
While the Coalition welcomes and invites an open dialogue about the airport, it is concerned that certain members on the Advisory Board do not have the best interests of the airport or the traveling community at heart.
“The Advisory Board is intended to assure that communities bordering the airport have their voices and concerns heard,” Ravitz concluded. “In its recent meetings, however, some members have attempted to overextend their reach by making proposals that would interfere with daily airport operations. We urge the County Executive to make sure the Advisory Board makes airport safety a top priority.”