Positive Developments in Sky Harbor Noise Problem

For any Phoenix residents expecting an evening of lip service by the city's Aviation Department, last night's Community Outreach Meeting was a pleasant surprise.

After six months of disruptive, and at times, constant airplane noise, Chad Makovsky, Assistant Aviation Director at Sky Harbor, assured the room that his department is "working every day to mitigate this [problem] and find a path forward." And, he added, "it does appear we're making some inroads with the FAA."

Over the course of the two-and-a-half hour meeting, Makovsky, along with Rob Adams from the private consulting firm Landrum and Brown, presented three pieces of good news:

First, the results of last month's noise-monitoring tests confirmed that the noise associated with the flight-path changes is "above background level and disruptive." The findings disprove the FAA's assertion to the State Historic Preservation Office that the changes would yield minimal impacts, and more importantly, validates citizen complaints. (The full results can be viewed here--but be careful before you download the document, it's 400 pages long.)

Second, the FAA will produce draft alternatives to the two most problematic flight paths, the Grand Avenue and Laveen corridors. This demonstrates that the agency is willing to participate in the discussion and corrective process, which is relatively unprecedented, and thus, a very big deal.

And third, Makovsky said he expects these drafts to be submitted to local government and Aviation Department officials sometime in the next few weeks. The drafts will be presented to the Performance Based Navigation working group, nicknamed "the PBN working group." It's a collection of technical and policy experts from the FAA and the city, and is headed by former Congressman Ed Pastor. (The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 2.)

See also: -Sound and Fury: Frustrated Phoenix Residents Are Roaring Ever Since the FAA Changed Sky Harbor Flight Paths -Phoenix to Investigate Airport Employee's Involvement with Flight-Path Changes

During the meeting, Makovsky also reviewed the timeline of past events and outlined the city's strategy for moving forward. He talked about the Aviation Department's plans "on the legislative front" and with "FAA engagement." (Rumor has it that U.S. Senator John McCain wrote a letter to the FAA, which came as a shock to everyone in the room because McCain has been nothing but dismissive to the local constituents who have contacted him about the noise.)

While the prospect of a lawsuit still is on the table--Phoenix Councilman Michael Nowakowski told the room he was "pissed off" and believes a lawsuit is coming in the very near future--Phoenix residents continue to grapple with the prospect. Some are strongly against litigation; others wholeheartedly support it.

Nicole Marquez, an active community member tells New Times that she's "on the fence." She says she's not sure a lawsuit will force the FAA to make changes and in fact might prolong the process. "But, by the same token, you're limited by what you can do as a city and citizen. And if [litigation is] the only way to make a point, to take a stand, than that's the way to go."

Makovsky dodged the topic of a lawsuit for the most part--to be fair, it would be a decision made by the City Council, not the Aviation Department--but he did say that "if we push the FAA as far as we can, and they're still not giving in, that's when we would enact the next strike."

Last night's meeting was the first in another round of outreach sessions organized and moderated by the city's Aviation Department, and comes less than a week after City Manager Ed Zuercher announced an investigation into an Aviation Department official who allegedly had a greater role in the flight path changes than was originally thought. Until then, the Aviation Department has said it did not know about the changes beforehand.

Deputy City Manager Paul Blue said he hoped the investigation would be completed by the end of next week. Steve Dreiseszun, an involved community member, tells New Times that he worries the investigation is overshadowing the positive steps detailed last night. "The major headlines are being lost in the anxiety of how we got here and that some members of the public are still seeking someone to blame."

He encourages other members to not lose sight of the big picture--finding an equitable solution that works for Phoenix and the FAA: "I think it's very easy to get caught up in the sound bite and the anxiety of the moment, but perspective in this issue is important."

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