In a victory for the city, a federal appeals court found the Federal Aviation Administration violated key environmental laws by altering the flight patterns of planes entering Los Angeles International Airport above downtown and downtown Los Angeles, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Monday.
Following the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the FAA must undertake a proper environmental analysis that should have taken place before the changes were implemented in 2018, according to Feuer.
Two years ago, the city sued the FAA, alleging the agency changed flight patterns without environmental review or public input.
“The FAA made changes to a major flight path over Los Angeles without considering noise and environmental impacts to residents below, and without consulting the city,” Feuer said in a statement. “It was wrong and that’s why we fought. We are very happy that the court agreed with us and ordered the FAA to finally conduct a full environmental review which, unlike last time, will include public comments.”
The appeals panel ruled Thursday that the FAA violated three key federal environmental laws by implementing the flight model changes at LAX as part of its deployment of its next-generation air transportation system: the National Environmental Policy, the National Historic Preservation Act and a section of the Department of Transportation Act.
The court ordered the FAA to undertake a proper NEPA and NHPA analysis and consult with the City of Los Angeles regarding transportation law.
While the problematic flight patterns will remain in place for the time being, the court ruling requires the FAA to undertake a more transparent and public process moving forward.
Five years ago, as part of the FAA’s implementation of the SoCal Metroplex project and NextGen procedures, the agency began modifying flight patterns for aircraft landing at LAX, including consolidating flight patterns over the West Adams neighborhood and other downtown and central Los Angeles communities, causing significant noise pollution and environmental impacts.
In May 2018, the FAA made additional changes to incoming flights, but reportedly failed to perform the required environmental review or seek public comment. These changes prompted Feuer’s lawsuit.
The City of Los Angeles had previously asked the FAA to address a series of specific changes to at least partially provide some relief to residents, but that proved unsuccessful and the city filed its lawsuit in June 2019.
Among other things, the city claimed in its lawsuit that the FAA failed to follow its own procedures and failed to properly consider all of the environmental impacts of changes to its flight patterns for incoming planes at LAX. During the litigation, the FAA presented the court with documents that would have confirmed that an environmental review had taken place, but the court found that the documents were deficient because they dated several months after the publication of the amendments to the flight circuit.
The lawsuit is one of three the city has filed against the FAA
on behalf of the city regarding NextGen. The second relates to southbound departures from Hollywood-Burbank Airport in which the city alleges the FAA admitted in the summer of 2019 that there was a “southern move” of planes – which n ‘has also never been subject to environmental review – affecting residents of Studio City and the southeastern San Fernando Valley, possibly the Santa Monica Mountains and others not near the airport who now know air traffic for the first time or to a degree never known before.
The FAA denied the city’s request to remedy the southward move on the grounds that the FAA did not cause the move. The third case involves the city’s Freedom of Information Act request regarding flight procedures at Hollywood-Burbank Airport. Feuer’s office has since received the requested documents and the parties are negotiating a resolution.
Feuer said he communicated directly with the regional FAA administrator, FAA attorney and members of Congress seeking relief for affected residents. Additionally, with federal and local officials, he pushed the FAA to conduct a thorough environmental assessment of potential flight pattern changes over the southern San Fernando Valley and Santa Monica Mountains.
The FAA has agreed to conduct this assessment and consider dispersing the flights in the process, Feuer said.