PHOENIX — The city of Phoenix and the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday they have come up with a plan aimed at resolving a flap over noisy takeoffs and landings that followed changes in flight procedures at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport three years ago.
The sides filed a joint petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, to give the go-ahead for the plan devised to lessen noise over neighborhoods without outright cancellation of the FAA’s September 2014 changes to Sky Harbor’s flight routes and procedures.
Under the plan, the FAA would reach out to residents while temporarily resuming the previous departure routes. In a second step, the FAA would develop satellite-based procedures for those original routes, seeking community feedback throughout the process.
A decision by the court earlier this year ruling in Phoenix’s favor, “shows that the FAA has to pay much better attention to those affected” by airport noise, said attorney Terry Goddard, who represented a number of Phoenix neighborhoods in a legal challenge of the federal agency’s decision. “Going forward in other cities, the FAA has to pay attention to people on the ground and take all parties into consideration.”
The Federal Aviation Administration started revising flight paths and procedures around the United States in fall 2014 under its air traffic control modernization plan known as “NextGen.” The new procedures use more precise, satellite-based navigation that saves time, increases the number of planes airports can service, and reduces fuel burn and emissions.
Noise complaints quickly exploded from San Diego to Charlotte, North Carolina, to New York as flights were concentrated at lower altitudes, in narrower paths and on more frequent schedules. The new paths often reduce the number of people overall that are exposed to noise, but the people who get noise get it far more consistently.
In Phoenix, redrawn flights over vintage neighborhoods affected some 2,500 homes overall, prompting historic districts and the city to file a court challenge aimed at forcing the FAA to reverse the changes. Phoenix neighborhood residents say the agency did not consult them before making the decision.
The U.S. appellate court in Washington on Aug. 29 agreed with their assessment that the FAA had been “arbitrary and capricious” in revising the flight procedures.
Phoenix community activist Steve Dreiseszun said he saw the agreement with the FAA as a victory for neighborhood groups.
“‘NextGen’ doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” he said. “In other places they have maintained the legacy flight routes while still enjoying these satellite-based efficiencies.”
The key to successful implementation of flight changes still being undertaken at airports around the nation is community outreach, said Dreiseszun.
“We didn’t have any at all,” he said, “but now the public can be involved.”