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Is a storm rolling in or is the FAA buzzing the Valley?

Courtesy of

John Polich

Remember when your parents drove to the end of the runway so you could watch the planes? Perhaps your thrill was Deer Valley or Sky Harbor or Luke. The experience may have created a desire to be cabin crew seeing the world, or to join the Air Force, or simply to become an aviation buff.

But even the most enthusiastic aviation ​buff ​would cringe at the aircraft swarming like a thunderstorm directly over Valley neighborhoods built decades ago that never faced the scourge of low-flying planes until today.

The FAA and local governments hope you have already forgotten that one year ago those planes were not screaming over your head. ​They hope you will buy silly arguments that the planes are not as loud as a rock band rehearsing in your garage or a motorcycle racing up and down your block. ​

Why the Phoenix Sky Harbor flight-path noise may drive you crazy

They hope owners whose property values have been substantially reduced will fail to go to court with “unjust taking” actions against the government for fair compensation.

On a recent Monday I was able to log flights over my home. I used Sky Harbor's PublicVue tool and in a few hours counted about three dozen flights within 1.5 miles​,​ below 6,000 feet above ground, some much closer and lower.

Flight Tracking

PublicVue also reveals two secrets of air traffic in the Valley:​

  1. Small aircraft on short hops ​like Phoenix to Flagstaff ​can be even more disruptive than the airliners because the FAA allows them to begin turning from the runway toward their destination much earlier, putting them over close-in neighborhoods.

  2. Some of your neighbors are pilots. A few of them skirt FAA minimums, 500 feet over open terrain but twice that over congested areas. For example, they thread the needle between Camelback Mountain and Phoenix Mountains Park while ignoring that their sightseeing could be too close to congested residential and commercial areas surrounding the mountains.

As I sit at my desk at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday to complete this article, overhead is American Airlines 646. The Airbus passes 1.2 miles from my home just 5,630 feet above my head, followed by a dozen more​ airliners​.

Push for change

One way to force air traffic back to where it was last year is to call your congressmen.

Another way is to contact the airline CEOs. They will claim they are only following orders. The reality is the airlines themselves put us in this wind-tunnel by claiming they need to save a bit of fuel at a time when they benefit from a collapse in oil prices but do not pass on the savings when we buy a ticket. And airlines ​have become highly profitable by offering tiny telescoped seats and big charges for baggage and food​ that were always free until now (something else they would like you to forget ).

Let's press the airlines as well as the politicians to undo the damage to the desert sky over Phoenix.

John Polich is a Scottsdale resident, who has worked for the Arizona Republic, Channel 12 and as research director of the New York Times.  He ran United States units of international opinion research companies and has taught communication in the U.S. and Europe.​ (Photo, Diane Love)

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