Hero Pilot Warns of Bird Strikes in Fight Against NYC Trash Plan

U.S. Airway Pilot Captain Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger III
U.S. Airway Pilot Captain Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger III sits in the cockpit of a US Airways flight moments before take-off from LaGuardia Airport on his first official day back in the cockpit on Oct. 1, 2009 in New York. Photographer: Seth Wenig/Getty Images, Pool via Bloomberg

Chesley Sullenberger III, the pilot who safely landed his US Airways plane in the Hudson River after a bird strike in 2009, is warning of catastrophes if a New York City trash facility near LaGuardia Airport is allowed to open.

Radio commercials financed by a group called Friends of LaGuardia Airport pit Sullenberger, 61, against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has championed trash-transfer stations as the most equitable and environmentally sound way to dispose of the city’s 10,000 tons of residential garbage a day.

“This facility will attract birds into the path of oncoming flights, putting thousands of lives at risk, including passengers in the sky and citizens on the ground,” Sullenberger says in the ads. He calls on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop the plant’s scheduled 2013 start.

At stake is a multibillion-dollar plan Bloomberg proposed in 2006 to establish 30-year control over solid-waste disposal after former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani closed Fresh Kills, a city-owned landfill on Staten Island.

“The plan reduces pollution from trucks in city traffic and provides more fairness, with no one borough shouldering responsibility for all the city’s trash,” said Ed Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, a group created to represent residents of the Bronx. The city’s poorest borough has been “disproportionately burdened” by trash facilities, he said.

Suctioning Devices

In addition to transfer stations using rail connections, Bloomberg’s plan creates four enclosed waterfront facilities, including one less than a half-mile (0.8 kilometer) across Flushing Bay from LaGuardia, which served 24.1 million passengers last year. The station would be able to receive more than 2,000 trucks daily between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Trucks dump refuse that goes into containers, which are sealed and sent by barge to landfills outside the city. The stations feature suctioning and deodorizing devices to prevent the smell of garbage from permeating neighborhoods.

After public hearings, a panel of federal and state experts concluded in 2010 that the North Shore Marine Transfer Station in Queens “is not inherently in conflict with safe operations at LaGuardia Airport” as long as biologists oversee bird-mitigation and deterrent efforts, such as anti-perching and ultrasound bird-alarm devices.

Mayor Responds

“The reality that’s being ignored is that a waste station was on this exact same location for nearly 50 years until 2001, and it was wide open, and there wasn’t a bird-strike issue for the waste station then,” Bloomberg, 70, a licensed pilot, told reporters May 15, after Sullenberger’s ads began running.

“Captain Sullenberger has a right to his views, but the authorities and the experts say it is not a risk,” the mayor said. “And we’re going to go ahead and do this.”

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Sullenberger, who glided an Airbus A320 safely into the Hudson River with 155 on board after a Canada geese flock disabled the jet about 90 seconds after takeoff, doesn’t accept Bloomberg’s assurances.

The FAA reported 142 bird strikes at LaGuardia in the year ended March 31, up from 139 for the same period last year, and 107 in the prior year.

“Every bird is a potential risk; even small birds can bring down an airliner,” Sullenberger, who is known as “Sully,” said in an interview yesterday.

“Whether the facility is enclosed or not, birds will be attracted by the trucks,” he said. “There will be periodic lapses, predictable failures. Gulls, pigeons, vultures are all attracted to waste facilities. You could not put this facility in a worse place.”

Legal Action

Sullenberger has served as an air-accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Air Force.

The group has filed lawsuits in federal and state courts trying to stop the facility from operating. It has also asked Cuomo to deny a state permit to the facility. Matthew Wing, a spokesman for the governor, didn’t respond to requests for comment on the issue.

Kenneth Paskar, 55, creator of the Friends of LaGuardia website, is a Manhattan resident and a self-employed aviation consultant. He declined to say how much he would spend. Twenty-seven spots ran on five radio stations last week, he said. He said he first became alarmed in 2008, while volunteering as a safety evaluator for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

“I couldn’t believe the city planned to build a garbage dump right near the airport” he said. “The city’s introducing a food source where one doesn’t exist, and this increases the risk far above what we have now.”

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