SOMETIMES trying to solve one problem causes another. When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tried to reduce flight delays into the New York area three years ago by a new routing system, it sent planes at low altitudes for the first time over millions of northern New Jersey residents. Many say the roar is intolerable.
``It's the kind of noise, after 18 straight hours, that puts you on edge,'' says Cranford resident Shirley Gazsi.
Sitting in her home on an otherwise quiet, tree-lined street, she explains that the din is not just from flights in and out of Newark International Airport 12 miles away. It includes flights in layers above, headed to and from nearby LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports.
Ms. Gazsi, who is now a member of the New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise, says she and her colleagues became aware of what happened only gradually and by talking with one another. No public hearings were held on the FAA action and no environmental impact study conducted, facts underscored later in a General Accounting Office study.
The New Jersey coalition notes that flight delays in the New York area have actually increased rather than decreased. They say they want a rollback of at least that part of the FAA's Expanded East Coast Plan that affects their region.
``The rerouting was all wrong - we want to start over and do it the right way,'' says coalition president Craig Cantoni, who lives several miles south in Basking Ridge.
Though a frequent flyer himself, he says the noise issue has ``consumed my life'' since early last summer when one of several FAA routing readjustments affected his home for the first time. He says he is often awakened at 3:30 a.m. as one cargo jet after another passes overhead. He says no one will admit that the problem is too much traffic. ``Everyone always says it's a capacity problem - no one wants to say the system is saturated and that we have to look for alternate means of transportation.''
Ms. Gazsi stresses that 208 communities are members of the coalition. ``We cannot all be suffering from the same mass hysteria,'' she says when people suggest that New Jersey's problem is no more serious than that of other airport neighbors. She bought her home in 1978, something she says she wouldn't have done if she had known what was coming. In her view, the FAA action is the moral equivalent of someone dumping toxic waste in her backyard at midnight in the name of progress. She sees it as a human rights issue. ``I have more rights if my neighbor's dog is barking incessantly than if my own government decides I no longer count.''
FAA spokesman Fred Farrar stresses that the original rerouting affected several states. ``It's just that New Jersey seemed to be more sensitive,'' he says. Responding to complaints, the FAA has made at least two adjustments, but the coalition claims the noise has spread rather than lessened. ``We're looking at the whole thing constantly,'' insists the FAA's Fred Farrar.
``I don't think there's much more the FAA can do about it,'' says Robert Aaronson, president of the Air Transport Association. ``It's just one of the realities of living in a complex technological society.''