Local airports are a problem too

Photo credit: Addison YC licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Local airports are a problem for those who live near them.

Airports big and small–from Logan in Boston and Reagan in Washington to the airports in the Hamptons and Santa Monica–have been in the news recently for noise and air pollution problems.

And now it’s Teterboro Airport’s turn in the spotlight.

I lived under the flight path to the Santa Monica Airport from 1991-2009, so I saw (or perhaps heard) the transition from single-engine Beechcraft, Cessna, and Piper aircraft, with a rare Beechcraft King Air two-engine plane from time to time, to Gulfstream 3, 4, and 5 jets. The single-engine planes didn’t make much noise, but not so for the jets.

A few things happened simultaneously. Thanks to airline deregulation, the number of passengers flying increased dramatically, without a corresponding increase in airport capacity. Because of this, airline service quality declined. After September 11, 2001, things got much worse. The security regulations made it unpleasant and time-consuming to travel on commercial flights, even in first or business class. The rise of the multi-millionaire and billionaire classes, thanks to strong markets and federal tax policies favoring wealthy investors, meant that many more people could afford to charter small jets, purchase fractional jet ownerships, or even buy their own planes.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald is reputed to have said, “the rich are different from you and me.” Why put up with the hassles of going through airport security and waiting for the boarding announcement when your limousine can drop you off and your private jet’s crew will load your bags while your custom-ordered meals are being delivered? Of course, the costs of these luxuries aren’t just borne by the rich. Those living near the airports put up with the noise and pollution.

In Santa Monica, the community finally rose in opposition and after a lengthy legal battle, succeeded in getting the airport to cease operations in 2028. Noise and safety concerns–a Gulfstream jet produces a lot more pollution and noise than a single-engine plane, and if one ever crashes it will cause a lot more damage than a small plane–were the major issues.

I hope I live ten more years to see (and hear) this happen. And I hope that those living near other small airports are successful in their efforts to control noise and pollution problems, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

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