FAA to revert to pre-2014 flight paths

Sky Harbor Airport (Anya Magnuson/DD)

The Federal Aviation Administration garnered mostly positive feedback at the second of three court-mandated community meetings to inform the public of temporary flight path changes and gather community opinions.

The FAA detailed their two-step implementation of new flight paths on Wednesday in the Maryvale High School Cafeteria.

The changes come as a result of an August 2017 D.C. Circuit Court decision that struck down controversial flight paths the FAA implemented in September 2014. The flight paths were a part of the FAA’s NextGen efforts to make routes more efficient.

As a result, flights turned more quickly at a lower altitude after takeoff. They traversed areas of the city which never had air traffic, including historic neighborhoods.

“We were surprised there was no public process before the change,” Steve Dreiseszun, a longtime resident of the FQ Story neighborhood, said. “We live in the historic district, so the homes are older. They’re not built by today’s standards. They don’t have sound-proofing. They don’t have dual-paned windows.”

RELATED: FAA, city, neighborhoods, agree to flight path reversals

The case was brought to trial by Phoenix residents and officials in 2015 after a year of filing complaints and seeing no results. Almost three years later, the court ruled in their favor, citing the FAA’s lack of community engagement before implementing the new routes.

Phase one of the changes will temporarily revert all westerly departure paths back to the pre-2014 routes. This means that planes have to fly farther from the airport before correcting the flight path, allowing them to have a higher altitude for the remainder of the flight. These will be actualized in two phases, beginning March 29 and May 24. The stopgap measure would give the FAA more time to collect data and community input to create updated flight paths using satellite-based data.

About 170 community members came to the first two meetings, according to Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman. Even with the high turnout, the meeting venues were a topic of contention.

On Feb. 2, District 8 Councilwoman Kate Gallego posted a picture on Facebook of a letter from the FAA denying a request for a fourth meeting.

“Currently the FAA has three scheduled, with one almost 20 miles away from the airport itself,” Gallego wrote. “This does nothing to serve our historic neighborhoods or the neighbors to the south and west, like the residents of the Nuestro Barrio, who have been most impacted by noise.

“It is unconscionable that after years of litigation the FAA would continue to make it difficult for people to be heard,” Gallego continued.

Gregor said the FAA had done its due diligence in choosing the locations.

“We worked with the city of Phoenix to identify venues that were in communities that were likely to see more air traffic as a result of the proposed change,” he said.

Laveen resident Phil Benson took a positive outlook on the community outreach, despite the impact the 2014 change had on his residence.

“The flights came right over my house, and they were only about a thousand feet in the air. I could actually see the airline logos,” Benson said. “I would get this awful thundering jet noise multiple times a day, at all hours.”

Benson said the workshop had largely addressed his concerns.

“They had enough representatives here that I think it made a difference,” he said. “We could drill down and try to understand better what they’re thinking and proposing.”

Benson also said he thought the temporary reversion to the pre-2014 procedures was a good move.

“Bringing everything back to where it was three years ago, it would give us the peace that we’re looking for back where I live,” he said.

ASU student Kyle Charles, who is writing a thesis focused on the FAA conflict, also attended the Wednesday community meeting.

“I think we can do better than what they have proposed here, but as far as the court ruling goes, there’s not much of a choice that the FAA has,” Charles said. “It’s important that we understand that the FAA is trying to make the sky safer and more efficient, and honestly make the air cleaner by implementing these routes. But we have to all work together.”

The next meeting will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Horizon High School cafeteria Thursday.

Contact the reporter at Rebecca.Spiess@asu.edu.