Los Angeles officials and San Fernando Valley-area residents lost a round in the battle over noise in the sky this week after a federal appeals court denied their push to get a federal agency to change what they say are unacceptably loud flight paths out of Hollywood Burbank Airport.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, Oct. 26, denied a request for review from the city of L.A. seeking to compel the Federal Aviation Administration to revert to older paths for planes flying out of the airport. Joining the city’s appeal were the Benedict Hills Estates Association and the Benedict Hills Homeowners Association. Supporters included several residents and local groups that say in the last three years the paths have become too noisy.
The new paths — created through a Federal Aviation Administration satellite system called NextGen — have generated a barrage of complaints from Toluca Lake to deeper into the Santa Monica Mountains in what has become a new front in a nationwide issue over aircraft noise from local hubs.
Burbank flights have historically flown south and made westward turns over the 101 freeway toward their destinations. But the departing flight paths under the NextGen Metroplex system had shifted southward toward the Santa Monica Mountains, a shift that continues to have parents, homeowners and businesses up in arms.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel concluded that a letter from the FAA to the city refusing to revert back to the earlier flight paths did not constitute “a final order.” The city had argued that the FAA — before obtaining the required environmental and administrative requirements — had “admitted to changing flight procedures” and was intentionally directing flights departing from Runway 15 to head farther south before turning north.
The FAA had argued that any shift in the paths was due to weather, pilot abilities and air traffic, and was not a concession of final changes or a final order on the paths. Indeed, the FAA continues to study the environmental impacts of the paths and their alternatives, and has not made a final ruling, according to the FAA.
Under federal law, whether something is a “final order” is significant because it triggers the ability of people impacted by an agency rule to seek review by the U.S. Court of Appeal.
But since the court found the FAA’s letter was not a final order on the new paths, the judges, ruling from Pasadena, denied the city’s appeal.
“The FAA letter did not express a definitive agency position,” according to the court’s memorandum. … The most the FAA letter does is disavow the City’s interpretation of earlier statements an FAA employee made in a public forum…We hold that the FAA Letter we are asked to review is not a final order, so we lack the jurisdiction to review it,” said the justices.
They added that that it didn’t mean they would not ultimately hear the case, if was brought to them on appeal from the lower courts.
Whether that would happen was unclear.
The FAA chose not to comment on pending litigation.
“Our office is reviewing the decision and we have no further comment at this time,” read a statement from the City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office.
In a statement, the group Studio City For Quiet Skies pushed back on what it said was the court’s errant understanding around the significance of the FAA’s letter.
The court had noted that the letter said that air traffic controllers have followed the “same procedure” to direct pilots based on air traffic conditions to keep flight paths separate.
“The Court misunderstood that the FAA changed the way the aircraft were flown, thereby changing the flight path without changing the flight procedure, and therefore did not ‘leave the world just as it found it.’ The Court, in its customary deference to the FAA, denied the changes that were made to the 100,000 people whose lives were drastically altered 4 years ago when the FAA suddenly moved the flight path over them.”
The group said it would be conferring with other groups, such as UproarLA and others, on its next steps.
The court’s denial this week comes after nearly three years of concerns over the Burbank flight paths, which have included parallel concerns nearby at Van Nuys Airport.
A report compiled by consulting firm Landrum & Brown in October 2018 determined that departing flight paths under the NextGen Metroplex system had shifted southward toward the Santa Monica Mountains.
Ultimately, pushback over the noise led to the Southern San Fernando Valley Airplane Noise Task Force — comprised of local and state officials who represent the area — voted to send a series of recommendations to the FAA to address complaints at the Burbank and Van Nuys airports.
Feuer announced in July his office’s intent to sue the agency over allegations of a lackluster environmental review process for the Hollywood Burbank Airport’s proposed replacement passenger terminal. In particular, the city accused the FAA of not taking into account the city’s comments in the environmental review process.
It was one a series of L.A.’s legal actions against the FAA, which included the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that the FAA ran afoul of environmental laws when it changed flight patterns for planes coming into LAX over Westside communities.
Ryan Carter, a reporter and editor, is part of team covering COVID-19 in L.A. County and lead election and politics coverage in L.A. County.Ryan started his career writing obituaries at the Glendale News-Press, before working as assistant city editor for Times Community News (Division of the L.A. Times) and city editorfor the Glendale News-Press, San Bernardino Sun and L.A. Daily News. Ryan earned a BA degree in Political Science from UCLA and is working toward his Master’s of Legal Studies at UCLA.