Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy International Airport

Newly formed JetBlue Foundation gives $25K grants to two Queens schools


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos Courtesy of JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways has given aviation students an extra push to fly above and beyond.

JetBlue, with a mission to inspire humanity beyond air travel, announced the launch of the JetBlue Foundation Tuesday. This company-sponsored foundation was created to encourage and advance aviation-related education by sparking interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.

“The sky is literally the limit for aviation students,” said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue Foundation board of directors president. “Through the JetBlue Foundation, we will continue our efforts to put aviation on the map as a career choice for students of all ages and backgrounds. As a leader in the aviation space, we believe it is our responsibility to give back by making an investment in the future of this industry.”

The announcement took place at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s JetBlue state-of-the-art T5 terminal, where students got a behind the scenes tour of the terminal.

The newly formed foundation will give three $25,000 grants this year to schools and educational alliance, two in Queens and one in Florida, with a focus on STEM and aviation-related programs aimed towards underserved groups and communities.

“Inspiration starts here. Encouraging education in Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and advocating for the future of aviation is how we will make a difference for our industry,” said Robin Hayes, JetBlue Foundation executive director. “These are the areas where we need more passion and focus to carry our industry forward.”

The two 2013 JetBlue Foundation grant receivers from Queens are Aviation High School in Long Island City and CUNY Aviation Institute at York College in Jamaica.

Aviation High School, the country’s largest public aeronautical high school with over 2,300 students primarily from underrepresented groups, will use the money to introduce an Aviation Welding Improvement Plan. This plan will guarantee students have resources to earn a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification as an aircraft maintenance technician. The school would purchase advanced technologies and materials needed to prepare students.

CUNY Aviation Institute at York College will use the grant to develop a course to create an FAA-approved Aircraft Dispatcher Certification program, making the college the first New York public education institution to offer this program.

In order to continue building lasting relationships with the schools, the JetBlue Foundation will also provide aviation-focused educational programs with in-kind support, internships and mentoring from crew members.

“Since JetBlue’s beginnings, the airline set its sights on inspiring humanity beyond air travel, not only for our customers and crewmembers but the various communities we serve,” said Geraghty. “One way we have done this is by showing support for STEM programs. We recognize our responsibility to the world below our wingers – to make it better and inspire others to do the same.”

 

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Famous Famiglia opens at Jackson Heights subway station


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

A new famiglia has come to Jackson Heights.

Famous Famiglia opened its doors on Monday at the subway station on 75th Street and Roosevelt Avenue together with local elected officials, family and friends.

The pizza chain beat out a total of 12 other proposals which vied to call the vacant 4,000-square-foot space home in 2010, after the MTA advertised a new request for proposals. Famous Famiglia won and signed a lease in 2011.

“We are very excited about becoming a part of the Jackson Heights community,” said Paul Kolaj, Famous Famiglia CEO and co-founder. “Even though Famous Famiglia is an internationally successful pizza brand, the Jackson Heights location is especially meaningful to us.”

Kolaj said Queens is important to him and his family, because they first immigrated to the United States through John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1970. The family went on to grow up in the South Bronx and in 1986 launched the business in Manhattan on the Upper West Side.

“The very fabric of America is no more apparent than the diverse cross section that is Queens,” said Kolaj. “We appreciate the partnership and support of the MTA and we look forward to creating dozens of jobs through a successful business in Jackson Heights, and for the opportunity to make our contribution to the local community.”

A month before taking office four years ago, Councilmember Daniel Dromm held his first press conference calling for the MTA to fill the vacant space at the subway station. Now that the pizzeria has finally opened its doors, the councilmember said it will be a significant economic driver to the community and also helps out other local businesses along Roosevelt Avenue.

“This is the hub of Jackson Heights,” said Dromm. “I’m thrilled to see Famous Famiglia finally able to open their doors.”

All sales made on the Monday grand opening will be donated to Elmhurst Hospital’s “Helping Kids Heal” fund, going towards the pediatric center at the hospital.

 

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Pols introduce bill in Congress to alleviate airplane noise


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

The skies over Queens and the rest of the country may soon be quieter.

Congressmember Joe Crowley gathered with state and local elected officials, advocates and community members Friday to announce the introduction of the Silent Skies Act bill that will work to alleviate airplane noise pollution in neighborhoods surrounding LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports.

The new legislation will require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement regulations by the end of 2015 demanding commercial aircrafts to go from Stage 3 noise standards to Stage 4 noise standards, reducing the sound by 10 decibels.

“Airports can never be perfect neighbors, but we can take steps to make them better neighbors,” said Crowley. “While commercial aircraft can never be truly silent, we can make sure they are less disruptive to the families who live nearby and improve the quality of life in our communities, not just here in Queens but throughout the country.”

Advocates for the reduction of airplane noise say the loud engines disrupt sleep, distract students and drown out the noise of everyday life.

Although the FAA issued regulations that required all new commercial aircraft designs to meet these new noise standards, the new introduced legislation would also have the FAA phase out older and louder aircraft.

The Silent Skies Act will now require the FAA to bring in quieter engines at a rate of 25 percent of an airline’s planes every five years, with all commercial airlines meeting the new noise standards by 2035.

“Recent changes in flight procedures have caused constant, intolerable noise in wide area of our New York/New Jersey metro area,” said Janet McEneaney, president of Queens Quiet Skies. “For too long, the interests of residents here were not considered when aviation procedures were planned.”

The new bill, if passed, would also encourage the research and development of quieter engine technologies through authorizing a new grant program.

“It’s time for our needs to be considered,” said McEneaney. “We remind you the skies belong to all of us, not just some of us.”

Hundreds of residents in northeast Queens have pushed for noise control after the FAA approved a new flight pattern last December that brought on a large amount of low-flying planes over their neighborhoods.

“Silent skies should not just be for first class passengers,” said Crowley.

The FAA said it does not comment on proposed legislation.

The number of people in the United States who are open to significant aircraft noise has dropped by 90 percent since 1975, according to the FAA. This decrease is due to mainly reductions in aircraft noise and phase-outs of older, noisier aircraft.

 

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200 homes in Bayside, Flushing file airplane noise complaints last month


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

Almost all the noise complaints filed last month at three major airports came from Queens, according to data obtained by The Courier.

More than 700 calls about airplane noise flooded LaGuardia Airport this June, while 348 grievances came in about John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to statistics from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Out of 1,061 total complaints that poured in last month, only 18 complaints were made to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

The complaints came from almost 200 homes in Queens, mostly in Flushing and Bayside, according to Port Authority data collected June 1-30.

About 500 complaints to LaGuardia were from those neighborhoods, with a majority of calls coming from residents near Travis Triangle and Bowne Park.

Residents from across the Queens border in nearby Floral Park made most of the complaints to JFK, a total of 200.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved a new flight pattern last December, much to the dismay of residents who say the procedure causes nonstop noise from low-flying planes.

The Port Authority and the FAA said they expect upcoming projects to reduce noise.

Representatives from both agencies addressed the Queens Borough President’s Aviation Advisory Council on July 22.

They said plans to soon rebuild and modernize the Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia would allow for larger planes on the runways. With more passengers per plane, that would mean fewer aircraft in the sky.

Officials also said by 2016, airports will be mandated to only use planes with engine sound-absorbing designs.

Planes going in and out of New York airports, with the exception of corporate aircraft, are currently “Stage 3” planes. The designation means engines are moved further into the interior of the plane to lessen noise.

Propellers are also shaped to deaden sound.

Barbara Brown, chair of the Eastern Queens Alliance, said larger planes would not be helpful.

“Even if flights are getting quieter, that won’t mean anything if there are more flights taking place in general,” she said.

Port Authority officials said they are also in the process of replacing 22 noise monitoring terminals and should be done by spring 2014.

They added that a public website will soon launch for people to monitor noise decibel readings and file noise complaints.

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and multiple congressmembers from the city and Long Island have called for more action. They recently sent a letter to Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye urging his agency to create an airport advisory committee.

“It is simple common sense to say that the largest metropolitan area in the country should have an airport advisory committee like the one we are proposing,” Schumer said, “a body that would help increase quality of life for locals.”

The New York state legislature passed a bill this year that would require the Port Authority to conduct a one-time study to determine the effects of aircraft noise on Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Jersey residents.

It awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature in New York and ultimately needs New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s approval as well.

Additional reporting by Johann Hamilton

 

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JFK Airport’s Worldport terminal lands on endangered list


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Anthony Stramaglia/Save the Worldport

John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Worldport terminal has flown into new territory — a list naming it one of America’s most endangered historic locations.

On June 19, the flying saucer shaped-terminal was chosen for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s latest list of America’s 11 most endangered historic places. The site has been slated for demolition by 2015.

The terminal, owned by the Port Authority and leased by Delta Air Lines, made the leap to the list through the dedication of “Save the Worldport,” a preservationist group co-founded in 2011 by New Jersey residents Kalev Savi and Anthony Stramaglia.

Although Savi is from New Jersey, he felt a connection to the site after growing up in an airline family. He got his first impression of the terminal at a very young age.

“I just remember approaching this enormous glass sculpture, I thought I was going into a flying saucer,” said Savi.

“It was the symbol of a new era.”

Savi started a Facebook group after being made aware of the Port Authority’s plan to demolish the terminal in order to create a parking lot for airplanes. He met Stramaglia through the group. The two have been trying to come up with renovation plans for the terminal.

“What this list really does is give legitimacy to our cause,” said Savi. “It really is a validation.”

The National Trust has listed 242 sites to date, and only a handful of those locations have been lost. “Save the Worldport” hopes the extra attention for the terminal will inspire architects, engineers and other organizations to save the site.

“We listed it because we feel it’s a significant part of aviation history, design history,” said Roberta Lane, the National Trust’s senior New York field officer and attorney. “The threat is obviously very real. We wanted to raise awareness of this threat and of this place.”

Yet the threat came closer to being realized when a bulldozer started tearing up the roadway leading to the terminal earlier this week.

“The old Pan Am Worldport terminal at JFK served this region for more than a half century, but is obsolete for 21st century aviation purposes,” said Delta and the Port Authority in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, JFK is a land-constrained airport and the choice we face is between job creation today in Queens and preservation of a facility that is no longer functional.”

The preservationist group will work together with the National Trust to continue meeting with the Port Authority about various repurposing ideas. Those include turning the terminal into a longterm rest facility for delayed visitors and bringing the retro, cool feeling back to travel.

 

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JFK Airport workers want a living wage


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

File photo/THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Security workers at John F. Kennedy International Airport find themselves in limbo – between terminals and supporting families on minimum wage.

“Nobody cares about our guys in the airport,” said Lorrington McKenzie who works traffic security outside the terminals.

McKenzie, along with other security officers, gets paid $8 an hour. He has not gotten a raise since he started working at JFK nearly four years ago.

To support his wife and three children, ages 10, 6 and 1, McKenzie has resorted to pawning anything and everything, including his wedding ring. He said he is also considering getting a second job on top of working full time at the airport.

“It’s tough,” he said. “I’m struggling.”

McKenzie said not having paid sick days adds to the “terrible conditions” of his job.

He is in charge of monitoring traffic coming in and out of the arrivals section and said drivers have gotten hostile in the past.

“They’re not allowed to sit in the terminal and wait for passengers. It’s for safety purposes,” he said. “But they get angry and frustrated when they have to drive around.”

Once, when he turned his back, he said, a driver punched him from behind.

“I was a little shaky,” he recalled. “I told Port Authority. But nothing came out of it.”

The Port Authority is responsible for contracts with private security firms that guard JFK.

Terminal 3, where McKenzie worked, closed after JFK opened a new terminal. Since then, McKenzie has not had a stable position. His company’s officials said he could be subject to a pay cut, or even lose his job altogether.

“The [job market] is all about who knows who,” he said. “I can’t just go out and get another job.”

Shah Rahman, another security guard, has not received a raise since he started working at the airport.

“The wage is quite insufficient,” he said. “It was good 10 years ago. But since that time, living expenses have risen. The minimum wage is not good for now.”

Rahman said he cannot afford to pay all of his living expenses. His wife and daughter both work part-time, but it’s still a struggle. His 23-year-old daughter is starting college soon, and the expenses will continue.

“Sometimes I have to borrow money from others,” Rahman said. “We have demanded raising our wages and paid sick days, but the company has not yet accepted our demands.”

The Port Authority did not return requests for comment as of press time.

 

CORRECTION**Lorrington McKenzie and Shah Rahman are non-union members working at JFK Airport. They are not members of local union SEIU 32BJ as previously reported. We regret the error.

 

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Boston Marathon bombing has races rethinking security


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File photo

Now that surviving Boston bombing suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev has been captured and charged with using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, some of the motivations behind the attack are becoming clearer.

Other questions about security and how to prevent future attacks at similar events are under heated debate.

“Thinking about the football season starting or baseball, I don’t think [security is] going to change dramatically,” said David Kearn, an assistant professor in government and politics at St. John’s University.

Sporting venues such as Citi Field and the National Tennis Center are contained locations, he added.

“If you have to go through doors, you can have metal detectors, you can have people doing pat downs, you can have different types of devices to make sure that people aren’t bringing in things that you don’t want them bringing in,” Kearn said.

But he added that an event like the Boston Marathon has large areas that are “virtually unprotected.”

Security measure that Kearn said officials could use in areas where people congregate include mandatory check points.

The JFK 5k Runway Run, an annual race at John F. Kennedy International Airport, already uses similar security measures.

Runners and spectators must pass through security in accordance with the airport’s standards, said Rudy Auslander of the JFK Rotary Club, the event’s sponsor.

He said while they do not have to remove their shoes, all entrants are screened. Buses take runners out to the runway, and spectators are kept in an area near the line where the race both starts and finishes.

Other races in the city are designed differently, with spectators throughout the route, making similar security measures difficult.

The New York Road Runners (NYRR), who organize races including the ING NYC Marathon throughout the year, implemented enhanced baggage security following the Boston attack.

Runners who want to check their bags at one of the races must place them in a clear plastic bag and leave them in a designated zone that participants cannot enter. NYRR also has the right to search any bag in or outside the baggage area at any time, and an unattended bag can be confiscated.

“The safety and security of all New York Road Runners’ races is and will always be our top priority,” the group said in a statement. “A number of significant measures have been put in place in recent years, and we will work closely with the NYPD over the coming days and weeks to further evaluate security at races. We will continue to work hand in hand with the City of New York and the NYPD as we plan for all upcoming events.”

Kearn said these security measures would “draw more resources and more man power. You might be able to have volunteers do some of that stuff in terms of just checking bags, but you will have to have more folks checking and looking around in the future.”

 

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Flyers feel delays from furloughs


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File photo

Weather is not the only thing delaying travelers this week.

U.S. government spending cuts forced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ax $637 million from its budget this year and to furlough it staff, the FAA confirmed.

Air traffic controllers are now required to take one day off without pay for every 10 days of work. That will come to 11 days of furlough per employee by the end of the year.

With fewer eyes on the skies, the FAA estimates the furlough could delay as many as 6,700 flights per day at 13 of the country’s largest hubs, including John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport.

On Monday, the first weekday of the furloughs, JFK already experienced delays.

“I didn’t know about [the furlough], but I’ve been waiting for my flight for over an hour now. I’m flying to Tampa and it’s been delayed,” said Matt Frankel.

“My flight has been delayed for almost two hours. This is ridiculous,” said one traveler.

But Joan Lamercka said she had no issues with her flight.

“My flight actually went pretty smoothly—no delays. But I can see how this would cause problems,” she said.

The FAA said there were 1,200 delays throughout the counrty as a result of the furlough on Monday. The body attributed an additional 1,400 delays to the weather and other factors.

Senator Charles Schumer said the FAA estimates there could be delays of up to 80 minutes out of LaGuardia and 50 minutes at JFK. He called on the Senate to repeal the cuts and is pushing to make up the revenue by closing tax loopholes.

“These furloughs will turn every day into a blizzard as far as flying is concerned,” said Schumer. “These delays can and must be avoided by passing a balanced budget to repeal the sequester through both closing tax loopholes and by making smart cuts.”

 -Additional reporting  by Luke Tabet

 

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Boxing champ arrested at JFK for gun possession


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BY ANTHONY O’REILLY

A professional boxer is getting ready for a fight with the judicial system after being arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Robert Guerrero, current WBC welterweight champion, was arrested on Thursday after he presented a locked gun box to a JFK ticket agent containing a pistol and three high capacity bullet magazines, all of which were unloaded at the time.

Guerrero is charged with one count of criminal possession of a firearm and three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

“I hope that Mr. Guerrero fights better than he thinks. For anyone who hasn’t gotten the message, let me be crystal clear. You cannot bring an unlicensed weapon – loaded or unloaded – into this county or this city. And if you do you will be arrested and face felony charges,” Brown said in a statement.

Earlier this year, New York passed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, one of the strictest gun laws passed in the country. Under the law, it is a penalty to illegally possess an unloaded firearm in the state.

“It is therefore more important than ever that if a passenger chooses to travel with a weapon, they should first acquaint themselves with the weapon laws of the jurisdiction that they are visiting and comply with any and all legal requirements,” Brown said. “Otherwise, they may find themselves being arrested and charged with a felony, as is what occurred in this case.”

Guerrero, 30 of Gilroy, California,was released on his own recognizance and will appear in court on May 14. If convicted he faces up to seven years in prison.

 

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Three Bronx men charged with conspiring to bring cocaine through JFK Airport


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Three Bronx men have been charged with conspiring to bring cocaine into the United States by arranging for a citizen of the Dominican Republic to swallow drugs and fly them into John F. Kennedy Airport, the Queens District Attorney’s Office announced Friday, March 22. The drug carrier was also arrested.

The announcement came from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, joined by Port Authority Police Superintendent Michael A. Fedorko and Port Authority Police Chief John Ryan.

Brown identified the defendants as Jarrol De La Cruz, 20, Pedro DeLeon, 34, Edward Rivera, 30, all from the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and Sergio Feliz Feliz, 19, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

According to Brown, the arrests are part of a long-term narcotics investigation involving the defendants and the airports, which is under the jurisdiction of the Port Authority Police Department. The investigation involved physical surveillance, court-authorized electronic eavesdropping and other investigative techniques.

“The defendants are accused of using a drug ‘mule’ to transport illicit drugs into this country in an apparent effort to conceal their activities from law enforcement. However, thanks to the diligent efforts of the Port Authority Police and members of my staff, their alleged scheme was foiled,” Brown said.

According to the charges, on December 1, 2012 at approximately 6 p.m. Port Authority Police conducted a car stop of a burgundy Chevy Impala on the Van Wyck Expressway in which the defendants De La Cruz, DeLeon, Cruz and Feliz were riding. Later, Feliz reportedly admitted to authorities he had swallowed 80 pellets containing cocaine and was taken to a local Queens hospital where he passed the pellets, containing an excess of eight ounces.

De La Cruz, DeLeon and Rivera are presently awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court on a criminal complaint charging them each with first- and second-degree attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree conspiracy and fourth-degree criminal facilitation. The fourth defendant, Felix, was arraigned on December 5, 2012, before Queens Criminal Court Judge John Zoll and was held on $200,000 bail. His next court date is April 9, 2013. If convicted, each of the four defendants faces up to ten years in prison.

 

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Man accused of sexually assaulting Queens woman arrested at JFK with stun gun


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BY ANTHONY O’REILLY

A 23-year old Greek national was arrested on charges of sexual assaulting a Queens woman, the Queens District Attorney’s Office announced.

The defendant, Promdromos Vasilopoulos, of Athens, was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport while trying to board a plane to London. Vasilopoulos was found with a stun gun, which the Queens DA believes was used during the attack.

The unnamed victim is a former girlfriend of Vasilopoulos. According to District Attorney Richard Brown, Vasilopoulos made approximately 200 calls to the victim, during a one-week period, in which he said she would pay for breaking up with him.

“The facts alleged in this case chronicle a frightening ordeal of mental, physical and sexual violence,” Brown said. “Hopefully, the young woman who was brutally victimized will rest easier in knowing that her alleged rapist has been brought to justice and will be vigorously prosecuted.”

According to Brown, Vasilopoulos knocked on the door of the woman’s residence and jolted her with a stun gun on her neck and stomach.

Vasilopoulos reportedly then proceeded to attack and sexually assault the woman.

The woman was treated at a local hospital for her injuries.

Vasilopoulos is being charged with one criminal complaint with predatory sexual assault, first-degree burglary, second-degree assault, strangulation and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and in a second complaint with second-degree aggravated harassment and second-degree harassment. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years to life in prison.

 

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LI man arrested for pointing laser at plane heading to JFK


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

BY ANTHONY O’REILLY

A Long Island man was arrested Wednesday for pointing a laser beam at two aircraft this summer, risking the lives of passengers and potentially people on the ground, said the FBI.

According to court records, on August 21, Angel Rivas, of Shirley, directed a laser pointer at a plane headed to John F. Kennedy International Airport and a Suffolk County Police Department helicopter that was sent to investigate the incident.

Rivas was released on $10,000 bond, according to media reports, after his arraignment in front of United States Magistrate Judge Arlene R. Lindsay in a U.S. State Courthouse in Central Islip on January 23.

“Pointing a laser at an aircraft is not a prank,” Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI said in a press release. “It is a federal crime with penalties befitting its seriousness.”

In February of 2012, President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which explicitly prohibited pointing lasers at aircraft.

If convicted, Rivas faces a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a maximum fine of $250,000.

 

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Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

TODAY’S FORECAST

Monday: Overcast. High of 37 with a windchill as low as 19F. Winds from the West at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 20%. Monday night: Overcast with a chance of snow and a chance of rain, then a chance of snow after midnight. Low of 32F with a windchill as low as 25. Winds from the West at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 20%.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Resorts World New Year’s Eve Bash

Ring in 2013 at Resorts World Casino’s New Year’s Eve Bash from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., where there will be live music, champagne and giveaways. Click here for more info or check out more New Year’s Eve events in Queens

Driver charged with DWI in fatal Queens crash

The driver of a car that overturned into the marshy waters near John F. Kennedy International Airport early Sunday morning, killing a 25-year-old woman, has been arrested. Read more: NBC New York

2 charged with teen’s murder in Far Rockaway

Two suspects were charged Sunday in connection with a shooting this weekend that left a 17-year-old boy dead outside a low-income housing development in Far Rockaway. Read more: CBS New York

Psychiatric test ordered for subway shove suspect

A woman accused of pushing a man to his death in front of a subway train told police she did so because she blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11 attacks, and because “I thought it would be cool,” prosecutors said at a court hearing. Read more: ABC New York/AP

President Obama’s determined to get a gun-control law in place early in his second term

President Obama called the Newtown school massacre “the worst day” of his presidency as he reiterated Sunday his determination to sign a gun-control bill into law early in his second term. Read more: New York Daily News

Hillary Clinton hospitalized after doctors discover blood clot

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was admitted to a New York hospital Sunday after the discovery of a blood clot stemming from the concussion she sustained earlier this month. Read more: AP

Fiscal cliff: Biden, McConnell make major progress

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden made major progress toward a year-end tax bill overnight. Read more: Politico

JFK workers say cutting corners puts passengers at risk


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Things do not seem to be flying smoothly at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

In recent months, two separate groups of contracted JFK security officers have filed complaints with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), citing problems with officials making employees cut corners when inspecting aircrafts and working within the terminals, along with substandard working conditions.

The most recent complaint was filed on behalf of Global Elite Group agents who perform security for several international airlines in JFK terminals 1, 4 and 8.

“Sometimes we get rushed by the managers,” said Yonathan Verasteguy, who has worked for Global Elite for eight months, and is already sick of the conditions. “Inspecting an aircraft should take 30 to 40 minutes, but we’re given 10 minutes for most flights. I don’t think it’s safe.”

Verasteguy said that it is mandated for all airport security officers to inspect each plane and search for items left behind, including threatening items such as weapons, drugs or explosives. They are expected to open every overhead bin, search each row, open every tray table and search all seat-back pockets.

However, for many turnaround flights at JFK, employees are not permitted the proper amount of time to conduct a thorough search so as to not delay the following flight out. Once a plane lands, they sweep through the aircraft and hope it is properly prepared for the next trip.

“My heart skips a beat every time I have to spend less time than necessary inspecting a plane,” said Jeffrey Uyanik, a JFK Global security officer. “Just this August, an airline representative told me I had three minutes to complete my search. Three minutes is not enough time to search the plane. I had to skip entire rows.”

Additionally, the Air Serv Corporation at JFK, which regulates vehicles within certain terminals and reviews passenger identification, filed a complaint with the TSA claiming security officers receive little to no training before beginning work, and are also given inadequate or malfunctioning equipment.

Global Elite has experienced similar troubles, being given faulty “wands” used to detect metal. As maintenance workers board an aircraft, Global officers must confirm that they do not bring any dangerous items on board, which they do by “wanding down” the crew.

“Too often we are given broken wands that don’t detect metal. Too often, even when we complain, we don’t get a properly functioning wand for too long a period of time,” said Global agents in their official complaint. “On some occasions, managers have directly told workers to work with broken wands. In other cases, when we complain, we are given properly functioning equipment.”

Also in the complaint, officers say that Global Elite does not provide them with radios, forcing them to communicate via their personal cell phones, often in airport areas lacking service.

Global Elite Group responded in a statement saying that it has “an exemplary record of safety and security at JFK Airport,” and that it has had constructive informational sessions with its staff, and will “continue to move forward.”

Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokesperson, said they are investigating the claims of both airline security contractors. They have not yet received the complaint from Global Elite agents, but have been keeping up with the situation via local media.

Employees from Air Serv and Global were told to not speak with the media, but intolerable conditions have forced them to speak out.

The select security officers that chose to do so, who are non-unionized workers, have begun organizing with union SEIU 32BJ to improve their working conditions, wages and benefits.

Aside from security within the terminals, JFK International has also experienced troubles at the security checkpoints for incoming passengers. This summer, Fox reported an incident in which a Long Island student made it through security with a large knife in his carry-on bag, en route to Terminal 4, one base for Global Elite. At the close of Memorial Day Weekend, thousands of travelers pass through the security checkpoints, and this particular 19-year-old was on his way to Africa as part of a missionary group. Tracking down the passenger took airport officials ten minutes after he had left the screening area.

Additionally, this past June, the TSA closed Terminal 7 for about two hours after discovering a metal detector had malfunctioned at a security checkpoint, and that passengers had already passed through without being properly screened, as reported by the Daily News. In such a situation, procedure mandates the terminal be emptied and all passengers re-checked.

On Thursday, October 4, members of Global Elite, Air Serv and SEIU 32BJ came together at Kennedy’s Terminal 4 to voice their concerns. They picketed, chanted and marched to Terminal 3, holding signs conveying their troubles.

“Respect our rights” and “our voices will be heard” were some of the messages. Workers also symbolically taped their mouths closed as they marched across terminals, showing how they have been silenced by their employers.

State Senator Tony Avella attended the event, speaking out in favor of the frustrated officers. He said he was “appalled” when he heard about their working conditions, and “shocked” when he learned they were banned from talking to the media.

“This is an issue about safety and free speech,” he said. “This affects every single person that is coming to the airport, and this is a matter that must be addressed.”

Residents up in arms over JFK runway expansion


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

John F. Kennedy International Airport has some angry neighbors to the north, thanks to a proposed plan by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to extend a runway closer to a nearby residential community.

“Our question is, how big is big enough?” asked Barbara Brown, chair of the Eastern Queens Alliance, of the potential 728-foot runway expansion. At a public hearing on Thursday, October 4, hundreds of southeast Queens residents gathered in St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Springfield Gardens to voice their opposition to the Port Authority’s plan.

“This is airport sprawl,” said Brown,as planes could be heard soaring overhead.

The Port Authority, under Federal Aviation Association (FAA) guidelines, wishes to widen JFK runway 4L/22R by roughly 200 feet, and expand it to the north. This change will allow the runway to accommodate larger aircraft carrying more passengers, according to Port Authority officials. Also, officials said, JFK would potentially experience a significant reduction in flight delays.

However, Queens residents are concerned with the noise and air pollution they expect the expansion to bring, mainly to the Springfield Gardens community.

“There will be a significant impact,” said Brown. “The Port Authority slipped up, they didn’t do their diligence.”

Brown and the Eastern Queens Alliance also accused the Port Authority of not making the local community aware of the proposed change, instead warning the residents in Nassau County.

The agency advertised its $500 million plan in Newsday last spring, and allowed the Long Island community to voice its concerns, which will be considered by the FAA. However, those closest to the airport were unaware of the situation until much later, they claim.

Brian Simon, director of government relations for the Port Authority, attended Thursday’s meeting.

“I thank [Brown] for keeping us honest,” he said. “Sometimes in government, we are not perfect. We can do better.”

Simon stated they are mandated by the federal government to create this project, and noted the large economic output that could result from the expansion.

“[JFK is] an economic engine that serves this community,” he said, citing the jobs that the international airport creates.

Port Authority environment officials have also done an analysis of the area, as well as tests regarding noise pollution. Studies found that the expansion would only raise the noise level by 0.7 decibels, an amount nearly undetectable by the human ear. Thus, officials claim there would be no significant impact.

Residents responded by “boos” and shouts, not won over by the Port Authority’s arguments.

“We are open to all comments,” said Simon, who encouraged residents to contact him after the meeting with their concerns.

The local community now has until November 1 to file complaints with the Port Authority, which will be considered by the FAA and put into the plan’s final proposal.

If approved, the expansion will be complete by late 2014.