About 700 yards from the end of a LaGuardia Airport runway, where thousands of planes take off and land, New York officials want to build what could be the equivalent of a bird magnet: a very large garbage transfer station.
And they want to do it just four months after a run-in with birds sent a jet full of people into the Hudson River.
"That's just insane," said Jeff Skiles, co-pilot of USAirways Flight 1549, which ditched in the water Jan. 15. "We have a lot of difficulty keeping birds away from airports as it is."
The city and the Federal Aviation Administration insist that the 2,000 tons of garbage, which would be hauled by truck into the 100-foot tall facility each day and sent out again on barges, won't entice birds because the waste will be kept in containers or inside the building.
"We don't see (the station) as opening up some advertisement to the bird population that says, 'Come here for a meal' -- it's not that kind of facility," said Walter Czwartacky, special projects director at the city sanitation department.
But pilots, bird experts and members of Congress are not convinced that the department's plan is as bird-proof as its proponents say it is. The Air Line Pilots Association International is asking the FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates LaGuardia, for a wildlife risk analysis of the project.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., whose constituents are unhappy with the project, said the plan defies common sense.
"Stand in any street and watch the garbage truck go by," Ackerman said. "Guess who is flying above them? They leak liquid, they have trash hanging off the sides -- anybody knows that. The whole thing is mystifying. Of all the places to put it, why direct deadline center at the end of a runway?"
Rory Kay, the pilot association's executive safety chairman and a pilot who flies Boeing 757s and 767s out of LaGuardia, said air traffic controllers have a nearly continuous warning to pilots about birds in the vicinity of LaGuardia. But, he said, when a plane is traveling at 3.5 miles a minute (or 210 mph) "there's not much you can do about it at that stage of the game" short of aborting a takeoff or landing.
"It's kind of a leap of faith to conclude there are no bird issues here," Kay said.
LaGuardia is the same airport from which the USAirways flight hit a flock of Canada geese. Skiles and Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger were lauded as heroes for averting a catastrophe in densely populated New York by gliding the plane safely into the Hudson. All 155 people aboard survived.
Last week, Ackerman and Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., inserted into a House aviation bill a provision directing FAA to rescind its determination that the project isn't a hazard. It was fortunate, Crowley said, that the pilot of Flight 1549 "had the split-second judgment" to ditch into the Hudson.