Newport Beach Files Lawsuit Against FAA

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A plane taking off from John Wayne Airport over Newport Back Bay.  — NB Indy file photo ©
A plane taking off from John Wayne Airport over Newport Back Bay.
— NB Indy file photo ©

At an open house hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration at El Modena High School in Orange, few details were offered on how flight paths for planes departing John Wayne Airport will change as the agency implements a new satellite-based guidance system in the coming months.

The meeting was attended by more than 120 people and held about a week after Newport Beach filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, claiming the FAA failed to adequately analyze the environmental impacts of implementing new departure, arrival and approach procedures at airports located within the Southern California Metroplex.

Laguna Beach and Culver City also filed suit against the FAA over the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) in Greater Los Angeles.

Dottie Harmsen, a long-time resident of Ruby Avenue on Balboa Island, said the open house was educational but disappointing because the FAA did not provide a microphone so airport neighbors could voice their concerns and grievances.

“What [the departing flight path] should be is how it used to be,” Harmsen said. “I think there is 100 plus planes that go over our patio. Instead of fanning out they go down Ruby Avenue or Coral Avenue.”

The FAA is implementing NextGen, a plan to modernize the National Airspace System through 2025. Federal officials claim the project will have no significant impacts on Southern California residents and that they followed the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act when measuring potential noise, pollution, and other effects of air traffic.

FAA Spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

“We stand by the environmental analysis,” Gregor said.

The FAA modeled noise at 330,000 locations throughout the project area. The results showed that some areas will experience slight noise increases, some areas will experience slight noise decreases, and some areas will experience no changes, Gregor said.

Newport Beach argues that the FAA predetermined the outcome of the NEPA analysis.

“That FAA made its decision regarding the project without considering concerns raised in [Newport Beach’s] comment letter further demonstrates the agency’s predetermination of the outcome of the NEPA analysis,” Whitman Manley of Remy Moose Manley, LLP, wrote in the city’s petition for review.

Tony Petros, Newport Beach city councilman and chair of the Newport Beach’s Aviation Committee, said it’s unfortunate the city had to resort to litigation.

“But the city submitted a 26-page letter to the FAA’s environment assessment and the FAA ignored it,” he said. “They said they misplaced it and they didn’t respond to any one of the 26 pages.”

A transportation planner for the environmental consulting firm LSA, Petros said it’s his understanding that federal agencies are required to respond to people’s comments under NEPA.

“We’re relying on words from staff at the FAA, ‘trust us,’” Petros said. “I believe that the FAA has every good intention but I don’t think I can trust something that is so vague.”

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