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Los Angeles Files Lawsuit Against FAA Over Burbank Airport Flight Noise

City Attorney Mike Feuer at Press Conference Suing the FAA Dec. 12 2019.jpg
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The City of Los Angeles sued the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday, demanding an end to a so-called "southerly shift" of takeoffs from Hollywood Burbank Airport that have resulted in a significant increase in noise over Sherman Oaks, Studio City and the Santa Monica Mountains.

The complaint, filed by City Attorney Mike Feuer in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal, asks the FAA to revert to historic flight paths that residents believe changed in the last two years, and release information about the airport's traffic to the public.

"We have tens of thousands of residents who are suffering an undue burden that they never anticipated from noise and other impacts from flights departing this airport," Feuer said at a news conference joined by two San Fernando Valley council members. "That impact has intensified greatly in recent years."

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. However, he said FAA officials have previously explained that nothing has changed in "how we handle Burbank departures in the immediate airport environment."

"Aircrafts today – as they have in the past – turn to a compass heading shortly after takeoff and continue to fly that heading until air traffic controllers instruct pilots to begin their turns to the west and north," Gregor said. "The changes that we made in March 2017 take effect 11 nautical miles north, and 17 nautical miles northwest, of the airport."

Gregor said some flights do fly slightly further southwest than they previously did before beginning their turns, but that “could be due to a number of factors including air traffic volume, air temperature, fleet mix, radio frequency congestion and air traffic control priorities.”

Feuer's complaint alleges the FAA's Burbank departure procedures were put forward during the Southern California Metroplex project, an initiative to improve regional airport traffic using satellite-based navigation. Although the FAA based its environmental assessment on what would happen on historic flight patterns, two years later there have been hundreds of thousands of noise complaints from frustrated residents and business owners. The complaint alleges the FAA has conceded that departing aircraft have "consistently deviated from the historic flight tracks by flying a more southerly path." 

When the city demanded that the FAA adhere to the historic flight tracks, the FAA said it was not responsible for planes flying south, the complaint said.

"FAA seeks to avoid responsibility pointing to everything but its own action or inaction -- weather, wind, plane volume, safety, aircraft and equipment capabilities and even pilot abilities,” the lawsuit said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who joined Feuer and Councilman Paul Koretz in announcing the lawsuit, said it was necessary to go to court because the FAA rebuffed previous letters and appeals that asked for an explanation of the departure changes and noise increase. He blamed it on the Metroplex project, which he said narrowed the path of flight takeoffs.
"We know that a sudden and dramatic change occurred in the skies over the Valley in 2017,” Krekorian said.

Graphic of Pre and Post Metroplex Flights released by FAA
Graphic of Pre and Post Metroplex project Flights released by FAA

Gregor said the FAA did not narrow the departure routes. A graphic on the FAA’s website indicates the departures continue to be dispersed. 

Krekorian, vice chair of the Southern San Fernando Valley Task Force on Airport Noise, which launched in August and includes representatives of federal officials include Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Adam Schiff, said “pages and pages” of questions to the FAA from that body were ignored. 

“The stonewalling cannot continue,” Krekorian said. “We’ve experienced this shift in noise personally. Every consultant that has looked at this issue has acknowledged the shift.”

Krikorian said he does not know how the legal action will be resolved, but “one resolution that will not be acceptable to me is to simply move the torture that one neighborhood is experiencing to another neighborhood so that that neighborhood can be tortured.”

Koretz, who also sits on the airport noise task force, said the FAA treats people who live near airports as second-class citizens. Airplanes, he said, are treated first class. The recent noise increase, Koretz said, has appropriately enraged hundreds of thousands of Valley and hillside residents.

“This is forcing people to move from their homes, sell their homes,” he said. “This is literally breaking up marriages and families.”

During a brief phone conversation, three jets flew over Christine Kim as she stood in Benedict Canyon. A couple of planes, she said, were Southwest flights, obviously from Burbank.

“Sometimes it feels like you are in a war zone when you get eight planes and helicopters in 24 minutes,” said Kim, co-founder of Sherman Oaks & Encino for Quiet Skies and chair of the airports committee for the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association.

Kim said she never would have purchased her Sherman Oaks home four years ago had she known about the flight path change.

“It’s jarring. It’s startling,” Kim said. “I’m concerned about what else is coming down besides the noise.”

Kim said she welcomed the lawsuit but wished it had included air traffic from Van Nuys Airport, which also has departures over her neighborhood. People who live near her have never experienced the air traffic overhead, she said. 

Some residents, like the Quiet Skies Sherman Oaks and Encino Coalition, have taken to recording the air traffic and posting their videos on YouTube.

Kim said hundreds of thousands of residents are affected, not just in the San Fernando Valley, but south of Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills and Bel Aire. Some residents, she said, never had jets flying above their homes, but now have anywhere from 100 to 300 planes overhead daily, flying at low altitudes.

“We are talking like Blitzkrieg-type volume,” Kim said. “We are talking 70, 75, 80 decibels. It feels like you are under a World War II flight path.”

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