Lawmaker Urges LaGuardia Flight Path Changes

A New York state senator is calling for changes to a flight path at LaGuardia Airport after a study found the noise it generates could reduce the lifespans of some Queens residents by about one year.

“That’s incredible, and it also shows just how dangerous these numerous flights are,” said Sen. Tony Avella, a Democrat who represents residents in affected neighborhoods. “There’s a direct health impact—you can’t escape that fact.”

The study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and published in the Aug. 15 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Until a few years ago, the flight path, known as Tennis Climb, was in effect only during the U.S. Open. The route takes departing planes along a tight corridor to the east of LaGuardia and then north, sparing players and spectators at Arthur Ashe Stadium the roar of jet engines.

But in 2012, with the growing use of GPS-based flight systems, the Federal Aviation Administration made the path a year-round route. Mr. Avella said that noise complaints from residents shot up immediately.

The Columbia study is based on an analysis of the hypothetical impact of noise on health, rather than on health data from local residents.

According to the study, there are some potential economic benefits to the flight path. Using GPS data, the FAA can optimize flight patterns and reduce flight time, costs and pollution.

But the researchers believe those benefits are outweighed by the cost to residents and the region in terms of increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease and anxiety caused by prolonged exposure to continuous noise exceeding 60 decibels.

Researchers estimated the route affects 83,000 people living in some of the most densely populated areas of eastern and northeastern Queens.

Reverting to use of the flight path only during the U.S. Open would cost the region $950 million in lost efficiencies—or about $10,000 per person for an additional year of healthy life, said Peter Muennig, a professor of health policy at Columbia and a co-author of the study.

He said that is less expensive than screening for breast cancer. “There is almost no better investment you could make if you wanted to prevent disease,” he said.

A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates LaGuardia, declined to comment on the study. A spokesman for the FAA said the agency hasn’t had a chance to review the report’s findings.

Mr. Avella said he would like to see the study expanded to look at the effect of other flight paths on neighborhoods in Queens. He also wants the FAA and the Port Authority to consider limiting flights over densely populated areas.

Janet McEneaney, president of Queens Quiet Skies, an advocacy group that provided noise data for the study, said: “The cost of reckless aviation expansion in our metro New York area is too high, as the study demonstrates.”