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Appeals court strikes down controversial Sky Harbor flight paths

Updated: Feb 1, 2018

Via The Arizona Republic:

After years of neighborhood complaints and criticism of the Federal Aviation Administration, a panel of appellate judges struck down controversial flight paths implemented at Sky Harbor International Airport in 2014.

In a 2-1 decision released Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit agreed with residents and Phoenix officials that the FAA didn't properly analyze the impact of flight path changes that resulted in a barrage of community pushback after taking effect. 

“The FAA took this step that negatively impacted the lives of thousands of Phoenix residents without seeking meaningful input from our community or the city. That’s just wrong,” Mayor Greg Stanton said in a statement. “Today’s decision affirms that FAA needs to go back to the drawing board and do this right.”

The FAA changed the flight paths in September 2014 as part of the national NextGen program aimed at improving safety and efficiency. Phoenix and a coalition of historic neighborhoods sued the FAA in 2015, alleging the agency acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it implemented flight paths that increased air traffic over some city parks and neighborhoods by 300 percent.

Residents shouldn't expect flight paths to immediately revert to the way they once were, however. The order won't take effect until after the FAA has the opportunity to ask for a rehearing, according to court documents. The agency "will carefully review the decision before deciding on our next steps," it said in a statement.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has previously indicated that the agency cannot revert to the old routes, noting even small adjustments will take time. "Making changes is not as simple as turning one procedure off and turning another one on, and designing and developing possible adjustments will not be a simple or quick process," Huerta wrote in a January 2015 letter to City Manager Ed Zuercher.  

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