Opinion

Maxwell: Sky Harbor is not all to blame for Scottsdale aircraft noise

Posted 4/28/21

Scottsdale City Council has delivered some big wins for its citizens in the past few weeks. A surprising vote for historical preservation and a 7-0 passing of a non-discrimination ordinance are feel …

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Opinion

Maxwell: Sky Harbor is not all to blame for Scottsdale aircraft noise

Posted

Scottsdale City Council has delivered some big wins for its citizens in the past few weeks. A surprising vote for historical preservation and a 7-0 passing of a non-discrimination ordinance are feel good moments for many residents.

But as the great Connie Mack reminds us, “You can’t win ‘em all.”

On April 26, a law firm from California representing the City of Scottsdale filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This was reported on Tuesday by the very capable Melissa Rosequist in the Independent.

The legal filing against the FAA is a complete waste of time, money and effort.

Mayor Ortega stop this non-sense now. The city will lose and it won’t be pretty. This effort is left over from the previous mayor and while it might seem well intentioned it is a fool’s errand.

The previous mayor reacted as citizens from north Scottsdale complained about airplane noise as they have for years. Many point to the FAA’s upgraded navigation system commonly referred to as NextGen as the culprit in increased noise issues.

NextGen may be a contributing factor but it is a minor one. For a super-fast refresher on NextGen listen up. In the early 2000’s the FAA wanted to modernize an aging air traffic control system. Part of those modernization efforts include a GPS based guidance system called NextGen.

In 2014 NextGen was implemented at Sky Harbor Airport causing some new departure traffic patterns out of Sky Harbor. As a result, a wealthy historical district sued the FAA. As part of a settlement agreement the FAA agreed to reinstate old departure patterns at Sky Harbor. This in turn this resulted in increased commercial air traffic over Scottsdale and is a by-product of those remediation efforts.

So, the situation is one wealthy district sued the FAA and as a result of those legal proceedings another wealthy city is poised to sue as well. I can tell you right now the FAA is not going to want to play legal ping-pong with Scottsdale and Phoenix.

We are asking the wrong question here. Yes, NextGen is a small part of increased noise issues but it is not the only reason. The issue of airplane noise being a nuisance in north Scottsdale is mostly made up by increased local traffic emitting out of Scottsdale and Deer Valley airports.

If you ask a resident who is being affected by airplane noise a very specific question you will quickly find that a highly fuel efficient commercial aircraft flying at 3,000 feet on decent to Sky Harbor is not that much of noise problem.

However single engine prop aircraft flying at less than 1,000 feet is quite another thing. Local air traffic coming out of Scottsdale and Deer Valley have increased dramatically in the past five to 10 years. Look no farther than the noise complaint reports being tallied by City Staff at Scottsdale Airport.

There is 30 years of data sitting there waiting to be analyzed.

Not to disparage law firms from California, but is it possible that they are doing a great job of convincing city staff and elected officials that legal remedies, generating thousands of billable hours is a noble fight worth having?

As Ms. Rosequist’s article mentioned, in 2019, after the settlement agreement had been reached, the FAA hosted a series of public comment meetings geared towards hearing Scottsdale residents’ grievances. At the conclusion of those meetings, the FAA issued a statement saying the issue would stand and no further considerations would be rendered.

How much clearer does it have to be? This issue is over, settled and put to bed. Don’t waste precious resources in an effort that is little more than appearing to be proactive in a very complicated issue.

Please Mr. Mayor and Council. Pay these guys the fees they have racked up to date and turn your attention to solving the real aircraft noise issue at hand.

Editor’s Note: Kevin Maxwell is a Scottsdale resident, former City Council candidate and former member of Scottsdale’s Airport Advisory Commission.

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