Plane noise is a fact of life in Valley Stream.
Whether you live in the village or its unincorporated areas, with John F. Kennedy International Airport roughly five miles away, at any given time there are at least a dozen planes taking off or landing in the airspace overhead.
But for resident Ulla Kjarval, who in recent months has been nursing a newborn at her home, the last few weeks have been particularly bad. “Maybe it’s because I’m home and up at night?” she said, wondering if her specific situation had made her sensitive to the roaring sound of jets overhead.
“I’m afraid the news is not good,” reported Larry Hoppenhauer, executive director of the Town of Hempstead’s Town-Village Aircraft Safety & Noise Abatement Committee, a civilian watchdog agency that monitors airplane noise in the area.
That’s because starting April 1, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK, embarked on a $355 million reconstruction and widening of two of the airport’s main runways, closing them for eight months until the project’s scheduled completion in November.
As a result, flights are now being rerouted to JFK’s remaining three runways, and residents of western Valley Stream can expect to hear more airplane noise for the project’s duration.
By Hoppenhauer’s estimates, JFK’s remaining runways could see anywhere from a 30 to 70 percent increase in plane traffic, which means the neighborhoods under the approach and takeoff paths for those runways will experience increased noise.
The runways under construction, 13L and 31R, run parallel east and west, leaving runways 4R and 22L — whose landing and takeoff patterns run above central Valley Stream — to handle more traffic, extending the radius and intensity of noise that will affect residents below well into North Valley Stream, according to an environmental impact report released by the Port Authority.
Where do the planes go?
The Port Authority estimated that roughly 860 arrivals would be rerouted from the runways under construction to others at JFK, with an undetermined number of departures to be transferred to other runways as well.
Valley Streamers are being hit with the brunt of the transferred arrivals, as runways 4R and 22L, which lie southwest of the village, were estimated to experience as much as 35 percent of the arrival traffic being transferred from the runways under construction. They will, however, see no increase in departure traffic, with plane takeoffs being directed south.
The purpose of the reworked flight paths, according to the Port Authority report, is to reduce the impact on JFK’s capacity during bad weather.
“The FAA has indicated that the temporary flight procedure would only be used during the construction period,” it added.
Additionally, the wider runways will accommodate the Airbus A380, the largest airliner in service in the world. The report indicates that the inclusion of the A380 in JFK’s fleet makeup will not lead to increased noise once construction is complete.
It’s all about the decibels
The Federal Aviation Administration’s standard method of measuring airplane noise uses a metric called day-night average sound level, or DNL, which measures the total accumulation of noise measured over a 24-hour period.
The FAA regards a 65-decibel DNL as its threshold for what it considers “significant” noise.
According to the Port Authority’s impact study, 13,406 households and 39,038 people would be exposed to a 65-decibel DNL or higher due to the construction.
In addition to average homes, 27 noise-sensitive sites, which include facilities such as hospitals, schools, houses of worship and libraries, may be exposed to “significant” plane noise that they had not experienced previously, and 30 sites that already experience plane noise will hear even more.
Conversely, because of a lack of traffic from the runways under construction, 16 noise-sensitive sites that normally experience plane noise are expected to see a temporary reprieve during construction.
The report maintains that the additional noise Valley Streamers are experiencing is necessary to keep JFK running smoothly. “No reasonable runway operations are available that might avoid such temporary noise impacts while maintaining efficient operations at JFK during construction,” it read.
Valley Streamers, however, can expect some normalcy to return in the coming months, as runways 13L and 31R become partially operational over the summer while the project moves on to reconstructing adjacent taxiways. By November, the plane noise is expected to return to normal levels.
For residents like Kjarval, it can’t come soon enough, but she expressed relief that the disruptions would only be for a few months. “It’s nice to know it’s temporary,” she said.