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The quiet skies above

Pandemic brings large reduction in plane noise to V.S.

Data Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; graphic by Christina Daly/Herald

For Valley Streamer Nicole Fischman, the plane noise was so constant that she started counting the intervals.

About every three or four minutes, the commercial jets would pass over her home near Firemen’s Memorial Field, sometimes so low that the house shook. The noise proved disruptive enough that her two sons, ages 11 and 3, would often wake up at night, and Fischman was forced to keep their bedroom windows closed.

“The ones that are incoming are the worst,” she said. “If you’re outside, they’re so low you could see any writing on the plane and the landing gear very clearly.”

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, however, Fischman has noticed a drastic decline in the number of jets roaring overhead, from dozens during the day to just a handful, and at night, two or three at most.

Her experience isn’t just anecdotal. According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates John F. Kennedy International Airport, Valley Stream has experienced a sharp reduction in flights, and corresponding airplane noise, as the pandemic has left the airline industry fighting to survive.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s standard method of measuring airplane noise is a metric called day-night average sound level, or DNL, which measures the total amount of noise over a 24-hour period. The Port Authority measures airplane noise with monitoring devices in the neighborhoods surrounding the airports that it oversees. The noise-monitoring device in Valley Stream is on Catherine Street.

According to the latest noise-level and plane traffic reports from the agency, in August Valley Stream experienced a 51.7-decibel DNL, which was down from a peak over the past year of 61.6 in October of 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, plane noise in the neighborhood has hovered around 51-decibel DNL.

The reduction in noise has also seen a corresponding reduction in noise complaints. In March, the Port Authority reported 2,033 noise complaints from residents in the neighborhoods surrounding JFK. In April, the number of complaints the agency received dropped to 1,794 before plummeting to 500 in May.

All of it appears to be the result of a dramatic decrease in plane traffic. From March to April, the number of arrivals at JFK runway 22L, whose flight path lies directly above Valley Stream, fell from 4,404 to 761. Arrivals on 22L account for 51 percent of arrival traffic at JFK, the Port Authority reported.

Departures at runway 22R, which account for 19 percent of take-off traffic at the airport, and whose flight path is also above Valley Stream as well as Elmont, also saw a similar drop-off, falling from 3,926 in March to 790 in April.

Overall, New York saw the largest loss of air travel in the country, with an 86 percent drop in flights, according to an August report by Airlines For America, an industry trade organization.

There are signs of a turnaround, however. In August at JFK, arrivals at 22L and departures at 22R rose to near pre-pandemic levels, with 3,424 and 3,454 flights, respectively.

All of it, however, has come at a steep cost to the airline industry. According to an Oct. 6 report by the trade organization International Air Transport Association, estimates are that the industry will lose $77 billion in the second half of 2020 worldwide, and with a slow recovery, would continue to lose anywhere from $5 billion to $6 billion a month in 2021. Reports from major news outlets estimate that the country’s four largest airline carriers have cut 150,000 jobs, with more reductions potentially on the way. Trade advocates have said a full recovery is unlikely until a coronavrius vaccine is developed.

In the meantime, however, Valley Streamers say they are enjoying the unusual quiet. Resident Tara Acevedo Lauria said she is better able to enjoy watching television and sitting outside.

Joli Burns joked that she believes she lives directly under a flight path. “Since Covid, I no longer fear a plane is landing on my house,” she said.

Ann-Isabel Previl said she has preferred the quiet, but has noticed the increase in flights as the industry begins a slow recovery.

“I kind of miss the times when I wouldn’t hear anything at all come bedtime,” she said.