Is Scottsdale gearing up to be the next Valley city to sue the Federal Aviation Administration for its unwillingness to address noisy flights?
After waiting months for a response, the FAA has shot down Scottsdale’s plea to reevaluate its disruptive flight paths. On Jan. 10, the FAA issued a statement saying it would not be taking any further action in considering alternate routes for its flight paths.
In response, Scottsdale City Council has a Feb. 4 closed-door meeting to discuss the FAA’s reply and consult with attorneys for legal advice and any potentially related or contemplated litigation or legal action.
The issue stems back to 2014 when the FAA implemented a new satellite GPS system known as “NextGen” for guiding arriving and departing aircraft to and from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport.
Where air traffic had formerly been dispersed over predominately unpopulated areas many miles away, arriving and departing planes were now compressed and moved into narrow and undeviating “highways” directly over densely populated communities.
Following the changes, the City of Phoenix and a number of Historic Districts filed suit against the FAA in the Federal Appeals Court, which ultimately was successful for the residents. However, the court ruling only applied to westbound flights.
In 2019, the FAA hosted public meeting workshops mandated by the court to finalize the implementation of the westbound route changes, and to receive input on issues elsewhere in the metropolitan area.
Following in May, Scottsdale City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing Mayor Jim Lane to submit comments on behalf of the city to the FAA regarding issues arising from airplanes arriving and departing Sky Harbor Airport.
Now, more than six months later, the FAA says it will not be taking any further action and has completed all of its obligations under an agreement stemming from the Phoenix lawsuit.
“Any future actions that the FAA may undertake regarding airspace changes in and around Phoenix will be considered new actions that are unrelated to the Implementation Agreement,” the FAA statement reads.
“The Implementation Agreement provided that the FAA during Step Two would have sole discretion whether to make any changes to flight procedures that are unrelated to the westbound departures that were at issue in the lawsuit.”
Scottsdale resident Bud Kern has been at the forefront of the FAA issue since NextGen was implemented. He started a group called SCANA --- Scottsdale Coalition for Airplane Noise Abatement --- that has been actively working with the City of Scottsdale, Maricopa County, and national organizations to seek negotiation with the FAA.
He says the FAA response was disappointing.
“Yes, it was disappointing and angering that the FAA said it is refusing to mitigate the illegal flight paths it placed over Scottsdale and the east Valley,” Mr. Kern said in an email.
“The FAA held mandated public workshop meetings last April and received over 1,500 comments expressing concern over the NextGen flight paths, which it chose to ignore. It presented ‘concepts’ at those workshops that provided some minimal relief and did not explain why it is not pursuing hose concepts except to say suggested modifications to the concepts were not acceptable.”
Mr. Kern says it took the FAA eight months to summarize the concepts and refuse to acknowledge that their flight paths cause public harm.
“The FAA clearly used a strategy to string along the public as long as it could, knowing all along it was not going to offer relief to our communities. The FAA is an arrogant bureaucracy only intent on serving the airlines and its own self interests,” Mr. Kern said. “It has no conscience about ruining the well being of thousands of residents and the communities they live in.”
Pointing to the Phoenix lawsuit against the FAA, Mr. Kern says from SCANA’s layman’s perspectives, they believe the court struck down all the new NextGen flight departures at Sky Harbor Airport.
“While the parties later settled on an agreement that only included the western departures, the court’s ruling was never revised to say western only,” Mr. Kern points out. “And it is only common sense that the entire NextGen process at Sky Harbor was down unlawfully, not just a part of it. The FAA knows the entire Sky Harbor NextGen process was illegal, our communities know it, our cities know it. The court said so and that fact needs to be acted upon.”
Mr. Kern says all hope is not lost, and they still have hope to force the FAA to rectify the flight paths placed over their communities.
“SCANA is in contact with the City of Scottsdale and is encouraging, and hoping, it will pursue legal action,” he said. “History shows that only successful legal action can force the FAA to admit its mistakes and correct its egregious actions. Second, even without legal action, SCANA and our communities will continue to pursue every available avenue to force the FAA to fix the mess it created. So hope is not lost. The fight will continue with renewed vigor.”