By Jack Mayne
A federal appeals court decision released on Aug 29 threw out changes the Federal Aviation Administration made to its landing and takeoff routes over and involving Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix that caused unexpected added noise over residential and historical parts of the Arizona city.
The FAA was told to rework its solutions in this case, which could have local implications.
Cheered local noise opponents
This action in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington has cheered many anti-airport noise campaigners in the area of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. They suggest this high court action bodes well for moves by both the Quiet Skies Coalition in Burien and the Quiet Skies Puget Sound Coalition in Des Moines to get the FAA to change its plans to change flight landing and takeoff plans that would increase noise over Burien, SeaTac, Des Moines and other areas around the fast growing airport.
Steve Edmiston – a Des Moines lawyer and member of the Quiet Skies Puget Sound citizens group opposing FAA flight path changes – said the Phoenix case is a “useful roadmap for other airport neighbor cities, with a virtual step-by-step guide for reviewing the FAA’s actions to determine whether the FAA failed to provide adequate notice and information to the proper individuals and groups, failed to collect needed information, and otherwise failed to comply with three federal statutes, before rolling out its satellite-based navigation procedures.”
Noise up 300 percent
In Phoenix, the FAA said they did not think any changes to the long-held flight paths in and out of Sky Harbor International Airport would cause any added noise problems.
In addition, the FAA “did not got to senior Phoenix city officials to discuss their changes” and only presented the finalized Phoenix flight routes at a “meeting attended by a low-level project manager of the city’s aviation department” and to “other low-level people.”
“The FAA did not share its environmental conclusions with Airport management until the day before the routes were to go into effect,” the appeals court ruling said. “Management asked the FAA to delay implementation so the public could be informed.
“The FAA refused.” It maintained its opinion that the changes would not cause undue added noise to historic and park areas of Phoenix or to its nearby residents.
The federal court bounced this idea as unreasonable.
“As noted, the FAA’s proposal would increase by 300 percent the number of aircraft flying over twenty-five historic neighborhoods and buildings and nineteen public parks, with 85 percent of the new flight traffic coming from jets,” the appeals court wrote.
“The idea that a change with these effects would not be highly controversial is ‘so implausible’ that it could not reflect reasoned decision making.”
So it is back to the drawing board in Phoenix.
So, what about Sea-Tac?
Steve Edmiston is an attorney and member of Quiet Skies Puget Sound, and is also on the new Des Moines Aviation Advisory Committee formed to address and make recommendations to the city council about negative impacts created by the Sea-Tac airport.
In an online post, Edmiston said the Phoenix case “dealt a significant setback” to the “relentless nationwide rollout of satellite-navigation-based airport expansions” that was started at Sky Harbor in Phoenix.
“The FAA’s notice was deemed inadequate because the FAA was required to confirm, and did not confirm, that the individuals notified were the correct individuals for assuring compliance with the NHPA. Critically, for airport communities suffering from NextGen in other cities, the FAA failed because it did not provide the public with information about how action affects historic properties and seek public comment and input.”
He noted the court decision also “provides some truly remarkable holdings.”
Failed to notify
The case makes the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) a “critical component for community pushback against the FAA. The Court found the FAA failed to determine that no historic structures were adversely affected and failed to notify required parties and provide relevant documentation,” Edmiston said. “The FAA’s notice was deemed inadequate because the FAA was required to confirm, and did not confirm, that the individuals notified were the correct individuals for assuring compliance with the NHPA.
“Critically for our own Sea-Tac communities, the FAA failed because it did not provide the public with information about how action effects historic properties and seek public comment and input.
In addition, he said National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the “FAA wrongfully avoided a more detailed environmental impact statement by erroneously applying a ‘categorical exclusion’ to the route changes.”
The appeals court said no categorical exclusion can apply if there are “extraordinary circumstances,” which exist when the action is “likely to be highly controversial on environmental grounds.”
“Common sense reveals otherwise,” Edmiston said. “As noted, the FAA’s proposal would increase by 300 percent the number of aircraft flying over 25 historic neighborhoods and buildings and 19 public parks, with 85 percent of the new flight traffic coming from new jets.

Noise not a danger

Third, he said the Transportation Act holdings “may provide the most unique and powerful roadmaps of all. The Court found the FAA failed to consult with the city “in assessing whether new routes would substantially impair the City’s parks and historic sites,” and “FAA was wrong to find the routes would not substantially impair these protected areas.”
“The key rationale that will cause the FAA severe heartburn is this: ‘the FAA cites no evidence that it consulted with these city officials on historic sites and public parks in particular.’ In other words, the FAA can’t go through the motions in a consultation, because the devil is in the details and content of the consultation, Edmiston said.
Edmiston also said that the court used the federal Transportation Act “to hit the nail on the head for our local communities. In addressing the FAA’s argument that over flights had already historically occurred in these communities, the court shut the door with common sense.”
The court said “those earlier flights involved propeller aircraft that flew far less often so the homes beneath them might still have been generally recognized as ‘quiet settings.’ In other words – historical uses are not the same as present uses and the FAA can’t try to avoid its obligations by claiming it has already made some noise.]]>

Jack Mayne

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.

6 replies on “Phoenix airport noise case may provide roadmap for challenging FAA at Sea-Tac”

  1. I live at 8th Ave Sw 156th St. The noise between 10pm and 3am had increased dramatically during 2017. The hot weather had our windows open all summer and there were many nights the noise was unbearable.
    Recently, it seems a bit less noisy than it was in June and July.
    Honestly, I’m surprised that the City of Burien is not the richest city in the state. How could a third runway be built with 100’s of dump trucks every day spilling gravel on the streets and freeway, noise I’m the area doubling (est) and Burien didn’t negotiate a Lotto size windfall?

    1. The dump trucks also had street cleaning crews at night spraying water and sweeping the roads travel by the trucks.
      June and July are when Seafair is in town so from time to time the blue Angels are practicing and performing. You know the really loud fast flying fighter jets. That do spins and flips .
      Maybe the blue Angels need to move the show to Everett. To please the quite skies group.
      But of course it won’t happen. Too many people enjoy the loud fighter jets flying at high speed over there homes.
      And burien just recently became part of the Seafair community. So of course no one can sit down and talk things over about the flight path of the blue Angels and moving them to Everett. No we have to sue and get lawyers involved and now spending tax payers money on this.
      Like discover burien and who ever is in control of seafair . This could get rid of the whole issue since the FAA says this is what rule there using for the turn. Blue Angels come to town.
      But then again the people that complain about this are better off just moving. Didn’t the head of the quite skies group put his house up for sell already.

  2. It’s time Alaska buys Big Body airplanes and consolidate their Alaska and California flights . They are expanding domestically trying to become a big carrier . If they want to play with the big boys they better buy Big Body airplanes .
    This would lessen the number of flights .
    SeaTac should not accept more flights . It’s time Everett uses Paine Field .

  3. I suspect the FAA folks see Burien passing (or prepping) heroin ijection sites and sanctuary city laws and properly conclude the town is run by imbeciles. Imbeciles dedicated to destroying the quality of life.
    I’d feel quite justified in nailing Burien and protecting other municipalities were I at the FAA.

    1. David Silver:
      Good grief!
      Your comments are a broken record and display the obsessive quality of your thought patterns. This article has nothing to do with your avowed hot-button issues. If you truly cared about Burien you would understand the impact of unchecked overflights and their direct impact on quality of life here.
      Instead, your comments twist into all sorts of mental gymnastics to bring them around to your same axe-grinding. The connection between these topics is non-existent and just another opportunity for you to trot out your divisive rhetoric.
      It seems pretty clear that your activities resemble that of an internet troll.
      Please get off Breitbart, turn off the Fox News and find SOMETHING positive to share with your community. As yet,there is lots of evidence in the blog comments, which suggest that you are more interested in promoting a negative stance at every turn, rather than any evidence showing that you value kindness, generosity or a heart for service to the greater good. SAD

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