Like at least a dozen other cities, Phoenix had it’s flight-path patterns unilaterally altered at Sky Harbor International Airport by the FAA last year in a process that precluded any public input or notification: On September 18, 2014, residents in much of downtown and south Phoenix, as well as parts of Tempe and Mesa, woke up to the near-constant roaring of airplanes overhead.
The changes were part of a national aviation system upgrade called NextGen, which helped streamline and better coordinate arrivals and departures by using more advanced technology.
The new systems also allow planes to fly closer in the sky, meaning, as organizers of tomorrow’s protest explain, that airports now are “cramming flights that used to distribute noise across a broad area into a superhighway.”
Organizers of the local event outside the Federal Building in downtown Phoenix go on to call NextGen the “Exxon Valdez of noise pollution” and say that “instead of occasionally hearing planes throughout the day, people [now] living under the flight routes are subjected to constant jet noise, [which causes] sleepless nights, increased stress and other health problems.”
The situation has become so unlivable that in June, Phoenix sued the FAA for imposing the changes without due process, and in October, a group of neighborhood associations from downtown Phoenix’s historic district also filed suit. (Both cases still are in the very early stages of litigation.)
According to demonstration organizers Phoenix, residents will protest three things: “The new excessive jet noise created by new NextGen flight paths, the FAA’s incompetence in designing these paths; and [its] deceptive practices to actively try to hide the noise impact.” And they will demand the FAA: “adopt stricter noise standards, conduct full environmental-impact statements based on real data, and adopt a transparent community engagement process.”
“Many of the communities affected were not included in the neighborhood lawsuit, and their voices are not being heard” Nicole Marquez, a community activist for the cause, says. “This protest is for them.”
In the past, she and others have been very clear that their goal is not to unfairly shift the noise burden onto another community but to find a way to more equitably distribute the problem — one solution that’s frequently mentioned is to go back to the old flight paths because they were primarily over non-residential areas.
The Phoenix City Council and multiple local and state elected officials repeatedly have asked the FAA to reassess the environmental impacts of the flight-path changes, particularly after the city conducted noise tests and disproved the agency’s assertion that the changes would yield no significant noise change.
But so far, the FAA has paid little to no attention to the request.
A similar pattern has emerged in other affected cities — Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, for example — and tomorrow’s day of action is part of a new coordinated national effort to challenge the FAA.
“We are tired of our voices not being heard. We are tired of hearing half truths," Marquez says.
“[And] we are tired of being told to be patient and be peaceful as planes rip over our heads.”
The protest is scheduled Saturday, October 24 from 10 am - 12 pm outside of the Federal Building at 230 N. 1st Avenue.