Phoenix May Sue the FAA After Agency Allegedly Lied in Letter to City

Phoenix just got one step closer to suing the FAA over last year's flight-path changes at Sky Harbor Airport. Mayor Greg Stanton said the city could file as lawsuit as early as May 1.

"I have always said throughout this process that we would reserve litigation as a last resort option," Stanton said. "I believe that we are nearing that last resort." The announcement, made at a press conference held by the mayor and City Council members Laura Pastor and Michael Nowakowski, came one day after the city received an incendiary letter from Glen Martin, the FAA's regional administrator. In the letter, Martin criticizes the city for not participating in the process of adjusting the problematic flight paths out of Sky Harbor Airport.

Councilman Nowakowski called Martin's allegation "a lie."

See also: -Sound and Fury: Frustrated Phoenix Residents Are Roaring Ever Since the FAA Changed Sky Harbor Flight Paths -Positive Developments in Sky Harbor Noise Problem

Martin's letter was a response to the April 13 meeting between FAA and city officials. Officially called the Performance Based Navigation (or PBN) working group, this team is tasked with reviewing why the current paths are problematic, and collaborating to the design the new ones. The team includes Chad Makovsky of the city Aviation Department and former-Congressman Ed Pastor. The April 13 meeting was the third time the group has met since forming in February.

"During the week of April 6, the FAA provided data and a total of 14 alternatives to the City's representatives on the Phoenix Performance Based Navigation Working Group, and understood the City would offer its own ideas or suggestions for the FAA to consider," Martin writes. "However, that did not happen. For this approach to work, it's critical that the city partner with the FAA and provide input about specific measures you would like us to consider and analyze."

"Our staff has given them several alternatives, and to put down in writing that we never gave any type of alternatives is a lie. It's wrong," Councilman Nowakowski said. "And [Martin] questioned--and this is where I get pissed off and mad--he questions the integrity of the city of Phoenix and our Congressman, Ed Pastor." He called this charge insulting.

Councilwoman Pastor said that she "had great hope that with this working group we would get to a solution," adding that if the city chooses to go the litigation route, she "will be standing strong with that."

The September 18, 2014 flight-path changes were part of NextGen, a program to modernize the nation's aviation system and were drafted and implemented without any public input or notification. The old flight paths had planes flying over wide swaths of industrial areas, while the new ones have streamlined them over residential neighborhoods. Residents are furious, and have vowed to fight the FAA on this issue until it is resolved.

At the press conference, the mayor also announced a special, last-minute City Council meeting scheduled for this afternoon, Thursday April 16, at 2:30 p.m. to hear from the public on this issue.

"Folks, this will probably be the meeting that you all need to be at, because tomorrow we need to make some decisions," Councilman Nowakowski said. "We need to make a decision as the city of Phoenix: what are we going to do?"

The three did mention that the city would continue to pursue other avenues as well.

  1. Collaborating with other affected cities across the country--whether formally, like through Congressman Ruben Gallego's participation in the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, or through informal channels, as many residents have already begun to do. (The FAA Reauthorization Act comes up for vote later this year, and language mandating the public be involved in any flight path changes is likely to be included.)
  2. Continuing to engage in the PBN working group.
  3. Trying to work with the airlines and other relevant parties to put pressure on the FAA.
  4. Enhancing the noise program at Sky Harbor so residents have an easier time registering noise complaints and tracking flight patterns.
  5. Actively participating in the FAA's metroplex process. (The FAA defines a metroplex as a "geographic areas that include several commercial and general aviation airports in close proximity serving large metropolitan areas." The greater Phoenix area is one of them, and includes Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Scottsdale Airport, Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, and Tucson International Airport.)
  6. On March 27, the FAA sent Phoenix Aviation Department officials a letter informing them that it was preparing an environmental assessment to assess any potential impacts of implementing the metroplex process, and was open to public comment for 30 days.

    At a community meeting Monday afternoon, Councilman Jim Waring encouraged the public to write letters to the FAA detailing how the September flight-path changes have affected the quality of life in many Phoenix neighborhoods and asking that adjustments be taken into account when designing the metroplex.

    But as promising as the metroplex process might be--and at this point no one can say what changes it will involve--the city's immediate focus is drafting a response to Martin's letter. That response will be presented at this afternoon's meeting.

    "It is now apparent that the FAA [has] zero intent of solving the serious noise issues that affect so many of our neighborhoods in Phoenix," the mayor said. "The FAA has shown us that it believes that [it is not] appropriately accountable to the people of this community. It has abused the process. It has undermined the trust that we have had in the FAA's local officials."

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