Amendment Addressing Noisy Phoenix Flight Paths Advances in U.S. Senate

There’s been a lot of talk by politicians in the last year about passing federal legislation to address the woes of the thousands of greater Phoenix residents who woke up one September morning in 2014 and discovered they suddenly lived under noisy Sky Harbor International Airport flight paths.

And as of this week, progress has been made with an amendment that Arizona U.S. senators John McCain and Jeff Flake introduced to the federal Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Bill. The amendment follows months of tremendous public pressure on the two senators to address the flight-path issues. 

The amendment, which passed the Senate unanimously, does two things:

For communities already affected by flight path changes, the FAA would be required to review the changes and work with local airports to mitigate negative effects, and for any future flight path changes, the FAA would be required to “fully engage” and consult with local communities.

In a joint statement, McCain and Flake say that their “amendment creates a long-awaited opportunity for residents around Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport negatively impacted by flight noise to have their voices heard by the FAA.” 

As New Times wrote in a March cover story, "Sound and Fury," the FAA unilaterally decided to alter flight paths near Sky Harbor and dozens of other cities as part of a national aviation system upgrade called NextGen.

NextGen has a lot of moving parts, but at its most basic, it can be thought of as an upgrade from radar tracking to GPS tracking, a more reliable, accurate way to monitor planes.

No one thinks NextGen is bad or that changing flight paths is the worst thing in the world, but what people in Phoenix (and all across the United States) are upset about is that the changes in flight paths occurred with virtually no notice to affected homeowners.
“There’s no doubt that implementing new flight path changes as part of FAA’s NextGen program is important for enhancing passenger safety and increasing travel efficiency, but these changes shouldn’t be made without fully engaging the communities that will ultimately be affected,” McCain and Flake say.

The noise controversy in Phoenix has been one of the most prominent and visible NextGen airspace battles in the country, and earlier this summer, the city of Phoenix and residents officially sued the FAA over it.

As the lawsuits chug slowly through the legal system, a simultaneous effort to make legislative changes has picked up pace.

Many in Phoenix feel that this Congressional fight, which has been led primarily by Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego in the House of Representatives and McCain and Flake in the Senate, stands a good chance of changing things.  McCain and Flake’s amendment represents the latest effort to address the issue, and the entire THUD bill is expected to be voted on soon.

Read the McCain-Flake amendment:

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser