Saturday, March 18, 2017

Phoenix flight paths fight goes to court

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ever since September of 2014, flights at Sky Harbor International Airport have been taking off with a different path from the past, directly over historic and other neighborhoods. 

The Federal Aviation Administration has maintained it's about safety and saving fuel.  But the City of Phoenix and people putting up with the noise want the planes flying the old flight paths.

On Friday, the case was finally heard by the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

The big issue -- not just the noise -- but the time it took the City of Phoenix to fight the flight plans and the way the FAA notified the city about them.

The city and its attorney, John Putnam, began the oral arguments.  Justice Judith Rogers consistently asked Putnam why the city didn't file a formal complaint about the flight paths sooner. 

"Wasn't the city obligated to file a petition in 60 days if it wanted to challenge the new routes?" Justice Rogers asked.

"I don't believe it was your honor," Putnam responded.  "In this circumstance within 60 days -- within 30 days -- the FAA told the city the noise impacts were greater than expected and that it intended to listen to community and city and go about the process and make changes.

Mr. Putnam told the court the city believed the FAA would listen to the complaints and make changes.  So it didn't file a formal complaint in 60 days -- as the law says it was supposed to.  Instead, the city waited 10 months to file a lawsuit.

The law also said the FAA had to notify the city in advance of the new flight paths.  It did that through a low level employee, a noise abatement specialist, who apparently didn't tell superiors.  That was the issue Justice Rogers took up with the Department of Justice attorney, Lane McFadden.

"Why wouldn't the statues and own procedures, contemplate notifying policy making officials?... Otherwise, it's a stealth operation.  All of sudden, you wake up, the plane's flying over your house and you don't know about it," Justice Rogers said. 

"The specific regulatory obligation is to consult with quote a representative of local government with jurisdiction over the area," McFadden responded. 

That's what the FAA said it did. 

Now the justices will decide what happens next.  They've not said when they could issue a decision in the case. 


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