Court Sides With Phoenix In Flight Path Debacle

By Mariana Dale
Published: Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - 5:27pm
Updated: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 - 2:43pm
Al Macias/KJZZ
An airplane flying near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 Tuesday in favor of the city of Phoenix in a years-long debate over flight paths that rattled central Phoenix residents.

“The FAA took this step that negatively impacted the lives of thousands of Phoenix residents without seeking meaningful input from our community or the city. That’s just wrong,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton in a statement. “Today’s decision affirms that the FAA needs to go back to the drawing board and do this right.”

The FAA rolled out new flight paths in September 2014 as part of a congressionally-mandated overhaul meant to make flights safer and more efficient.  Phoenix residents took notice almost immediately. The Arizona Republic reported in the first two weeks Sky Harbor received more noise complaints than in the entire previous year.

“If you have incessant noise for hours upon hours upon hours of a period of time that you can imagine how oppressive it would be,” said Steve Dreiseszun who lives in the F.Q. Story Historic District.

The city of Phoenix sued the FAA in June 2015 after mounting residential complains and unproductive meetings with the federal agency.

Tuesday’s decision finds the FAA violated federal laws and guidelines in failing to engage Phoenix employees about the changes and improperly analyzing the new flight paths impact on the community.

“Nobody had the opportunity to appropriately give feedback on what a change like this would mean,” said Deborah Ostreicher, Phoenix’s assistant aviation director.

The ruling cites the FAA’s proposal which was estimated to increase the number of aircraft flying over 25 historic neighborhoods and buildings by 300 percent.

“The idea that a change with these effects would not be highly controversial is ‘so implausible’ that it could not reflect reasoned decision making,” the majority opinion said.

Dreiseszun, who says the noise disrupted his sleep and family story time, was glad to see the ruling in Phoenix's favor.

“We’re very pleased the court has decided the FAA has made a huge mistake in how they implemented these changes,” Dreiseszun said.

The FAA said in a statement, “We will carefully review the decision before deciding on our next steps.”

It’s unclear when the flight paths will be changed.

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