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Phoenix, Arizona Lawsuit Against FAA: US Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of City of Phoenix, Phoenix Neighborhoods in FAA Flight Paths Lawsuit

posted Aug 30, 2017, 10:01 AM by MoCo Quiet Skies   [ updated Sep 17, 2018, 11:02 AM ]
We have provided below an excerpt of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's Press Release from August 29, 2017: 

PHOENIX – Nearly three years after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) changed the flight paths at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport without notifying the community, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled in favor of the City of Phoenix and the neighborhoods.  In June 2014, the City of Phoenix filed a lawsuit on behalf of all Phoenix neighborhoods, which was followed by a suit brought by several historic Phoenix neighborhoods.  The court joined the two lawsuits together.

Today, the court issued an unprecedented opinion and a judgment that FAA violated federal law when implementing the new flight paths in September 2014.  The order indicates that the FAA will need to return to the routes in place prior to September 2014 until it conducts a new environmental process.  Attorneys for the City of Phoenix are studying the decision to understand the process moving forward regarding what changes will be made and when.

In the Court’s written opinion, it agrees with the City and Neighborhoods’ argument that FAA approval of the new flight routes in September 2014 was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Department of Transportation Act.

The court ruling states that “by keeping the public in the dark, the agency made it impossible for the public to submit views on the project’s potential effects—views that the FAA is required to consider.”  The ruling goes on to say that “The FAA had several reasons to anticipate that the new flight routes would be highly controversial: The agency was changing routes that had been in place for a long time, on which the City had relied in setting its zoning policy and buying affected homes.  The air traffic over some areas would increase by 300%—with 85% of that increase attributed to jets—when before only prop aircraft flew overhead.  The FAA found a ‘potential [for] controversy’ but did not notify local citizens and community leaders of the proposed changes as the agency was obligated to, much less allow citizens and leaders to weigh in.”

The Court agreed that the FAA violated its duty to consult with the City in assessing whether the new routes would substantially impair the City’s parks and historic sites and that the FAA did not have enough information to find that the routes would not substantially impair these protected areas.  The Court opinion states that “The FAA never conveyed the proposed route changes to senior officials in the City’s Aviation Department, local officials responsible for affected parks or historic districts, or elected city officials.” 

Please click on this Press Release for additional quotes from Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and members of the Phoenix City Council: US Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of City, Neighborhoods in FAA Flight Paths Lawsuit (Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Press Release, Aug. 29, 2017).

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We have also provided below the August 2017 Press Release by Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner regarding this recent Court ruling:

For far too long, many of our residents have had the quality of their lives, and the value of their property, severely diminished by airplane noise.  This was the direct consequence of a decision by the FAA to reroute planes without full consideration of the impact on our area.  Working with neighborhood leaders and the Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition, I have urged our county to pursue legal action against the FAA as other communities such as Phoenix have done.  In response, our county has retained outside legal counsel that was involved in the Phoenix case to prepare a legal memorandum on our options.

Earlier this week, Phoenix won!  The U.S. Court of Appeals held that the FAA's actions were "arbitrary and capricious" and ordered them to go back to the way it was before until a new plan can be developed.  Equally important, the Court ruled that the city had legal standing to file their claim late because the city demonstrated good cause.  Those two findings are equally applicable to our situation.  I conveyed to our County Attorney this morning my belief that this case strengthens the argument for filing an action against the FAA and that we should request an expeditious response from our outside law firm.  He agreed on both points.  While our battle has not been won, yesterday's court decision was a very, very positive development.      

Please click on this Press Release for additional information from Council President Roger Berliner: Fighting to Reduce Airplane Noise (Office of Council President Roger Berliner, The Berliner Brief, Aug. 2017).

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Additional News stories on the Court's recent decision:

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The Court's ruling and full court opinion are available below and also under the folder "LAWSUIT_AZ Lawsuit Court Documents (PHX)" on the Downloads and Templates tab.