The city of Newport Beach reaffirmed its commitment to fighting the Federal Aviation Administration’s newly mandated flight regulations at John Wayne Airport during Wednesday’s SpeakUp! Newport event, held at the Civic Center community room.
Tom Edwards, past councilman, mayor, and Citizen of the Year, now serves the city as a consultant for airport matters. He updated the concerned audience, nearly all of whom are affected by the daily noise of departing jets, on the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System, or “NextGen.”
NextGen, according to the FAA, was designed to increase safety with “repeatable and predictable flight paths,” conserve fuel, reduce emissions, and shorten flight times and delays. JWA is one of the airports included in the Southern California “Metroplex” Project.
One thing that NextGen did not take into consideration was noise or the people on the ground who have to hear it. Many in the audience said that they had heard and seen airplanes at lower altitudes in recent weeks.
Newport Beach, Edwards told the audience, does not have direct control over the airport or its decisions. The county owns the airport, but only the FAA has the power to control flight patterns.
The city and surrounding neighborhoods of JWA do have the advantage of the John Wayne Settlement Agreement. Enacted in 1985, airlines departing from JWA must abide by a curfew on departures, which is between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on Sunday).
The new flight patterns of NextGen will follow those rules, but depending on the flight’s destination, jets may be flying lower and over a different path out to the turn-around point over the ocean called a STREL.
One such pattern, called PIGGN, has already been finalized and went into effect on March 2. PIGGN is a departure procedure for all flights whose destinations are east of Las Vegas, or about 50 percent of all JWA departures.
“The flights no longer go out over Shellmaker Island in Back Bay,” Edwards stated. Instead, he showed a map of actual flight paths from the past week that went directly from JWA over Balboa Island and out to the STREL. Flights then turn eastward over Newport Coast or the Crystal Cove area.
Two other departure procedures, called FINNZ and HHERO respectively, are expected to go into effect by the end of April.
In creating NextGen for the Southern California Metroplex, the FAA wrote that they found “no significant impact” to Newport Beach in an environmental report. A report, Edwards pointed out, that the FAA conducted without city input. The city responded with a 58-page letter of concerns and notable oversights.
Nearly two years later, the FAA has yet to respond.
Newport Beach then sued the FAA last year, alleging that the new NextGen/Metroplex flight patterns violatee the National Environmental Policy Act and adversely affect the quality of life in the city. It was filed with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases against federal agencies and has been moved to Washington D.C., according to Edwards.
Until the case is decided, new flight plans at JWA will go on as scheduled by the FAA. Neither the city nor the county has the power to stop them at this time.
The John Wayne Settlement Agreement and its curfew will remain in effect until 2035, thanks to an extension approved by the Orange County Board of Supervisors last year.
“The county has been a great partner and continues to be,” Edwards said, noting that the county recently joined in Newport Beach’s litigation against the FAA.
Laguna Beach filed their own suit last November, alleging similar environmental impacts were ignored in the selection of “vague” new flight paths.
Edwards reminded the audience that the key to success with the FAA is “to speak with one voice.” He urged them to participate in the city’s Aviation Committee, which usually meets on the last Monday of each quarter, and to write to City Manager Dave Kiff with concerns.
He admitted that Newport Beach has had more victories against airport noise than others.
“The success is because of the cooperation of all parties,” Edwards said.