Bizav hub looks ahead at ‘green’ challenges

 - May 7, 2008, 9:37 AM

When an airport considers environmental impact on neighbors, noise is usually the top concern, but dealing with water- and air-pollution issues is becoming a more important part of the mix. At an environmental symposium held at Westchester County Airport (HPN) in White Plains, N.Y., on October 17, there was good news on the anti-noise front.

Year-to-date airport operations at White Plains are up significantly over last year’s numbers, but noise complaints are down 50 percent (to 1,611 year-to-date this year from 3,826 for the same timeframe last year). HPN is surrounded in close quarters by some of the most high-priced real estate in the country, and its wealthy neighbors have enjoyed the convenience of the airport (it has airline service as well as its heavy corporate usage), but they have not always been happy with some of the side effects of having a busy airport in the neighborhood.

To address the noise issue, HPN management has had a voluntary restraint from flying (VRFF) program in place for two decades now. It strongly suggests that aircraft do not take off or land between midnight and 6:30 a.m. According to airport noise officer John Inserra, based tenants support the program unswervingly–to the point of incurring the significant inconvenience and expense associated with positioning aircraft at other airports when an early-morning departure is necessary and transporting passengers via limos or vans. On the incoming end, nighttime arrivals that cannot make it to HPN before midnight are rerouted to other nearby airports, or the departure is delayed overnight and passengers and crew stay in hotels an extra night.

A pilot for Bristol Myers said at the seminar that his company did not treat the program as “voluntary.” For them, it’s considered a rule. However, he cited instances in which Bristol Myers aircraft have been sitting on the ramp waiting to start until the no-fly period expires–and a transient aircraft would taxi by on its way to the runway at 6:25 a.m. He said that was sometimes difficult to explain to his passengers who are in a hurry to get to a meeting. “We support the VRFF program, but we need to get support from some of those operators,” he said.

To address that issue, the airport has developed a one-page flyer addressed to “our corporate friends,” and geared to passengers who make use of aircraft that may not be based at HPN. The flyer explains the reason for the VRFF curfew and asks their cooperation in scheduling arrivals or departures via non-based corporate aircraft, or charter or fractional operations. Some 2,000 copies of the flyer are being distributed to Flight Options share owners (Lynn Dougherty, the Flight Options pilot assigned to concentrate on noise issues, was at the meeting), and arrangements are in place to distribute the flyers to share owners of other fractional operations’ aircraft. One seminar attendee suggested publishing the contents of the flyer in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Capping the seminar was an awards luncheon at which the 2001 “Spirit of Noise Abatement” plaques were conferred upon 27 HPN-based companies. The awards were presented in three categories: helicopters, turboprops and jets. The award-winning companies maintained a 100-percent compliance with the VRFF program throughout last year. Special recognition went to Ernst & Young for the lowest average sound level of the year for a single aircraft–its Challenger 601 operated by Jet Aviation. Chase Manhattan won the lowest average sound level award for a fleet–its Gulfstream IV and Challenger 604, also operated by Jet Aviation.

HPN management and its based tenants have addressed the noise issue aggressively. But other environmental considerations loom. For instance, the airport has been targeted by environmentalists who suggest that de-icing fluid is contaminating groundwater. While close monitoring has shown the airport to be innocent of such activity, future considerations have led to a proposed central de-icing system. The $30 million project (estimated) has undergone its first stage in the arduous county approval process, and airport manager Joel Russell said it would be two years from final approval until completion of the five-bay de-icing facility. He said there is no specific timetable for county approval.

Airport environmental manager Renee Johns further speculated that concerns over air pollution by aircraft at HPN could be the next political issue to affect users. The airport has formed the two-year, $450 million Airport Environmental Management System (AEMS), a multifaceted body that would address any and all issues of environmental concern at the airport. Funded by the county, the AEMS has selected ISO 14001 standardization–a format she said is recognized by the government, corporate and environmental communities.