The City of Scottsdale is taking the Federal Aviation Administration to court in an effort to reverse 2014 flight path changes which resulted in resident complaints about increased noise and pollution.
The legal petition is the latest development in a longstanding battle between the FAA and some Valley cities stemming from the agency’s implementation of new flight paths at Sky Harbor Airport under its NextGen program.
The program was designed to increase efficiency and safety but also redirected some flight paths towards more populated areas, including parts of northern Scottsdale and downtown Phoenix.
The DC Ranch community in northern Scottsdale was one of several areas affected, with resident Bud Kern saying “All of a sudden, I noticed planes every 90 seconds.”
Kern founded the Scottsdale Coalition for Airplane Noise Abatement, or SCANA, which has pushed the city to take the FAA to court, much like the City of Phoenix did in 2017.
The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., decided against the FAA after the Phoenix and some of its historic neighborhoods challenged the flight paths.
The court found the FAA did not conduct proper outreach and ordered it to return flight paths to as close as possible to the pre-NextGen paths.
The FAA and Phoenix then came to an agreement requiring the agency to reverse westbound paths affecting the Phoenix neighborhoods and conduct additional outreach with other communities affected by the changes.
The FAA received robust feedback from Scottsdale and other Valley cities when it conducted the required outreach in April and May last year, with the agency even presenting rough sketches of two alternative flight paths potentially alleviating some concerns.
Responses to the FAA’s public outreach campaign included numerous responses from Scottsdale residents in support of one or both of the conceptual changes. The FAA published the responses, without names, along with its Jan. 10 decision.
“As a resident of North Scottsdale, I would like the FAA to move the flight paths further east and south of the McDowell Mountains. I have seen the proposed maps identified in the PDF as Concept 1 and Concept 2. I support both of those and ask the FAA to adopt both of those revised flight paths,” read one response.
Scottsdale also submitted its own proposed modifications, but on Jan. 10, the FAA announced it had concluded outreach and would not be making any changes.
FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor told the Progress “we intend to continue the dialogue with local stakeholders about issues of interest” but no community meetings are currently scheduled.
The city filed a petition on March 10 with D.C. appeals court, asking the court to review the agency’s Jan. 10 decision. City council unanimously authorized the city to file the appeal on Feb. 18.
In its petition, Scottsdale argued the FAA did not follow its own procedures when it issued the order and failed to conduct a mandatory environmental review prior to issuing the decision.
“As a result, its decision was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law,” the city’s petition states.
The city argued the FAA did not provide proper justification for leaving the remaining NextGen routes in place despite receiving a significant amount of community feedback in opposition to the new routes.
“In other words, the question for the court is whether the agency has considered the relevant factors and articulated a ‘rational connection between the facts found and the choice made,’” the petition states.
The FAA declined to comment on the city’s petition. “We don’t comment on pending litigation,” Gregor said.
Gregor pointed the Progress to verbiage presented at the community meetings stating “The FAA is not committing to make any changes. The decision whether to implement potential airspace or route changes during Step Two will be at the FAA’s sole discretion.”
Kern, with SCANA, challenged this argument, saying the original 2017 court ruling required the FAA to revert back to all of the original flight paths, citing language in the court’s decision.
“For the foregoing reasons, we grant the petitions, vacate the Sept. 18, 2014, order implementing the new flight departure routes at Sky Harbor International Airport,” the court’s order stated.
For years, Scottsdale avoided taking the FAA to court.
The city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying firms and consultants in an attempt to convince the FAA to change course.
“What we’d seen is there seemed to be responsiveness from the FAA to citizens’ petitions and, frankly, multiple signatures,” Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane said. “We wanted to demonstrate the community is really with us on this.”
However, in its Jan. 10 decision, rejected alternative plans proposed by the city and developed by JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, citing safety concerns.
Lane said the FAA decision forced the city to create its own opening to change the 2014 flight paths, saying the agency “left us a little high and dry.”
SCANA applauded the city’s decision to take the FAA to court.
“SCANA is pleased the City of Scottsdale has taken the necessary action to protect the quality of life its residents sought out and enjoyed for many years…We look forward to hopefully seeing the end of the FAA’s assault on our communities here in the valley and thank the City of Scottsdale for standing up for its residents,” Kern said.
Kern hopes the court reaffirms the 2017 Phoenix ruling and decides all flight paths, including the eastern routes over Scottsdale, should be returned to the original state.
Lane told the Progress following the council’s Feb. 18 vote, Scottsdale attempted to enlist other area cities to support its cause.
However, it does not appear it received this support, according to court records.
Scottsdale is the only petitioner listed on the March 10 petition for review and there are no records of other Valley cities filing their own petitions in 2020, according to a federal database of court records.