Ahwatukee residents who have been waiting for the courts or federal administrators to do something about the noise from commercial airliners leaving and heading to Sky Harbor International Airport apparently will have to wait longer.
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., finally heard oral arguments in the City of Phoenix’s lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration but gave no indication when it might rule on the two-and-a-half-year-old case.
And the FAA has yet to respond to a new federal law requiring it to review the kind of flight path changes it made for Sky Harbor flights that created the problem for some Ahwatukee residents in the fall of 2014.
Even Arizona’s two U.S. senators are frustrated.
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake last week sent a joint letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta requesting an update on the agency’s implementation of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 that requires it to review flight-path changes at airports Sky Harbor, and mitigate any negative effects of these changes on local communities.
McCain and Flake sponsored the provision in response to Phoenix citizens’ complaints about an increase in flight noise as a result of flight-path changes made without consultation with the community.
“As you are aware, the flight-path changes implemented at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in 2014 affected a significant number of residents and businesses near the airport,” the senators wrote.
“The changes in flight patterns caused an increase in the frequency of overhead flights, ultimately leading to an escalation in flight noise,” they added, stating:
“Many of our constituents who live and work near Sky Harbor airport were understandably frustrated with the FAA’s lack of engagement with the community prior to the implementation of these changes… It is important the FAA follow the instruction in the NDAA and work to improve community outreach and participation in flight-path changes.”
Huerta has not responded to the letter.
Last month, Phoenix finally got its day in court over the flight-path changes, which it contends violated requirements to confer with residents.
Several historic neighborhoods in Phoenix have joined the suit, saying planes can be heard from early morning until after midnight.
The hardest hit part of Ahwatukee is in the far west, at the end of Pecos Road, where some residents say the noise is almost incessant from sunrise to well past sundown.
“Phoenix is the only city in the country that had flight paths moved overnight, without any formal community notification,” said Jim Bennett, Phoenix director of aviation services. “We would like to see the FAA conduct a full environmental assessment of the flight-path changes, as the agency should have done prior to moving the routes in September 2014.”
While a low-level Phoenix employee was informally advised of the FAA intentions, no formal notification was given to Phoenix aviation officials at any time, Bennett said.
“We are here today because the FAA did not follow its own rules when it abruptly changed flight paths,” said Bennett. “This has caused severe consequences to our community and to quality of life in the city of Phoenix and the metropolitan area.”
Since the FAA changed the flight paths over Phoenix, noise complaints at Sky Harbor have soared from 200 in 2013 to 80,000 since the new flight paths were implemented in September 2014.
McCain and Flake raised four questions with Huerta that demanded a full accounting the agency’s response to the federal law and a timeline for completing the review.