[David Jolkovski/AFN]

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.

(1) comment

WMSilaghi

re: "“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.”" . . . and . . . "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." . . .

This "implementation . . NDAA 2017" is nothing new, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) already covers this, as does FAA Order 7400.2 Procedures for Handling Airspace Matters.

We, (the FAA when I was employed there in Sacramento 1983-2002) went through this when the FAA (Sacramento TRACON and Oakland ARTCC) amended the initial departure heading for the FROGO Standard Instrument Departure (SID) from an initial heading of 120 degrees to 115 degrees. because of an automation system "Conflict Alert" being generated between the FROGO SID and the WRAPS Standard Terminal Arrival near the southeast boundary of the Sacramento TRACON Airspace.

Ironically, this was also the same time frame that evaluations were underway to identify potential arrival and departure route changes that might be forthcoming with the creation of the Northern California TRACON (combining Sacramento, Stockton, Bay and Monterey Radar approach controls into a common facility).

Sadly, the complaints that were generated came from an area almost fifteen miles from the airport, where radar ground tracks and altitude data indicated that nearly 90 percent of the aircraft were already above 10,000 feet MSL. Since as I said it was also during the time of the NCT evaluation study, a contractor was already on site to provide Noise Measurement and Modelling evaluations. Their study revealed that the departing jets could not be heard over the existing ambient road and neighborhood noise. It was the "Old Version" of I see a jet, therefore there must be noise.

Now granted, it has now been fifteen years since I left the FAA; but at that time, when you worked in the "Procedures Department" in addition to going to "Terminal En Route Procedures" (TERPS) school, you also got training the NEPA and 7400.2. I can't say whether that exists today or not, but given the asinine amount of services that were provided by FAA Employees that have now been contracted out in today's FAA. Someone missed something someplace.

Back then (the Sacramento situation), we went back to the old FROGO SID heading of 120 degrees until the aircraft was about 15 miles from the airport, and then gave them a radar vector to the departure gate to avoid the "Conflict Alert" situation. . . . However, not "knowing" the specifics of the Phoenix/Ahwatukee situation, but with a rise/increase in the number of flights out of PHX and the advent of more RNAV Departure procedures being published to maximize airspace efficiency and reduce departure delays AND the increase in the number RNAV arrival procedures resulting in more aircraft flying over the same ground track instead of the somewhat randomness of a radar vector to the final approach course, my educated guess would be the RNAV procedures. Especially given the time frame indicated in the article.

Again, not knowing specifics, but referring to practices I know existed during my FAA Employment, when wind conditions permitted, PHX operated in a landing to the west operation from mid afternoon until around sunrise, because arrival procedure are inherently more quiet (use of less power) when a programmed descent profile is established, mitigating the noise of Tempe (which pre-2002) was PHX main concern due to the increased traffic volumes.

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