Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (IATA: PHX) has announced that almost three years after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) changed the flight paths in the airport’s vicinity without notifying the community, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled in favour of the City of Phoenix and the neighbourhoods. In June 2014, the City of Phoenix filed a lawsuit on behalf of all Phoenix neighbourhoods, which was followed by a suit brought by several Phoenix neighbourhoods. The court joined the two lawsuits together.
On August 29, the court ruled that the 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 Neighbourhoods’ 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: “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.”
The ruling and full court opinion are available on skyharbor.com/flightpaths