Phoenix FAA Lawsuit

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The city of Phoenix is suing the FAA over changes in flight paths last year that caused problems for residents living under the new paths. Chad MaKovsky, assistant aviation director at Sky Harbor, will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll hear from the City of Phoenix on a lawsuit filed against the FAA over flight paths out of Sky Harbor. And we'll have a discussion on the state of corporate giving in Arizona. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. New census numbers released today show that Arizona has the third lowest per-pupil education spending in the nation. Arizona spent about $ , only Utah and Idaho spent less with the national average at $ , . The City of Phoenix announced late yesterday that it's filing suit against the Federal Aviation Administration over changes in flight paths out of Sky Harbor. The City claims the changes have caused "extreme discomfort" for residents west of the airport. Joining us is Chad Makovsky, assistant aviation director at Phoenix Sky Harbor.

TED SIMONS: Why is the city filing suit against the FAA?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: The FAA implemented new flight paths around the airport there, and in doing so the paths were changed so dramatically the community reacted very severely to that. The community was not consulted with in any way prior to the implementation of those changes. We have worked very hard with the FAA to try to come to some resolution. We've come to the place where we realize there's not much more that can be done here amicably, so we need take that next step.

TED SIMONS: Where did the FAA change those flight paths?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: It's really a national initiative where the FAA is looking to advance the process with flight paths around the United States. If you think about it, for decades planes have been flying on land based navigational aids, and they are now advancing to satellite based technology. It's time to advance that using the latest technology and that's what the FAA is doing.

TED SIMONS: How does the latest in technology mean instead of going this way and that, I now go this way and that?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: It's using satellite-based technology. If you're losing land-based technology on freeways, you sometimes have to go out of your way to get to your destination. It all translates to efficiency.

TED SIMONS: The FAA claims it improves safety, as well, is that valid?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: They absolutely do improve safety in the air space. When you have a place where planes can travel by satellite technology, that leads to less opportunities for errors. Previously air traffic controllers had to very much direct every move of the airplane from Point A to Point B. With the computer technology less of that is involved and that improves safety.

When you look at the straightline path from one destination to another, that can in fact save money and emissions. That's their point there.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk about how the flight paths have changed with neighborhood streets and those things in mind. We're talking take-offs for the most part, correct?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: Yes, they did modify arrivals and takeoffs as a part of this process. But the most significant reaction is with the takeoffs.

TED SIMONS: Because those are louder.

CHAD MAKOVSKY: Absolutely.

TED SIMONS: Where did they use to go and where are they going now?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: Airplanes used to fly primarily along the Salt River bottoms and west of the airport. There were some residential areas as well, but predominantly industrial areas until they got to an altitude of , to , feet aboveground. Now what's happening is almost immediately after takeoff from the airport they are making turns going over populated areas and that's what caused the concern in the community.

TED SIMONS: That is because satellite based technology says this is an easier way to go, more efficient?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: The FAA and the airlines did feel it would absolutely save -- improve safety and improve the efficiency and capacity there.

TED SIMONS: The lawsuit says extreme discomfort, people can't sleep at night or go about their daily activities. Talk to us about this, give us an example, and where is this going on?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: We've seen the impact around two corridors west of the airport. We've received complaints throughout the Valley about these changes. But the most dramatic is just west of the airport. There is one path that goes along the Grand Avenue corridor now, so we have many historic neighborhoods immediately adjacent who are feeling these impacts. Then the planes immediately turn to the south-southwest and go over South Phoenix residents and into Levine.

TED SIMONS: Interesting. The Mayor says the FAA proposed no meaningful changes. What has the conversation been like? Have they proposed any changes?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: They have proposed some changes. Former Congressman Ed pastor was very, very helpful to the city in the working process with the FAA. We've just recently engaged the FAA for one last chance and they have offered some solutions, we just don't think they are enough.

TED SIMONS: As far as your solutions what changes do you think should be made?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: Based on our modeling we need to continue to keep these planes over largely industrial and river bottom until they don't interview with speech, quality of life, people who are sleeping and what have you. Before they make those turns over those communities. We made several proposals to the airlines.

TED SIMONS: How does the FAA respond?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: We appreciate the proposals but we can't quite get to where you want us to go. They have offered alternative, their alternative on Grand Avenue suggested the move would be a third of a mile, about feet either way of where it is today. That's not enough to make a material change for the communities who are so severely impacted.

TED SIMONS:I know there was an attempt to talk directly to the airlines, as well. What became of that?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: We engaged at the executive level with the airlines. Our two predominant carriers, Southwest Airlines and the new American. We had a heartfelt conversation, the mayor and our council and Congressman Pastor were very helpful with that dialogue. We had our technical teams get together, but we still weren't able to get where we needed to be.

TED SIMONS: The airlines and the FAA, when they see this, obviously you've talked, they don't understand all this. What do they say, too bad? I can understand efficiency to a certain degree, but the efficiency over here, you could move it down there.

CHAD MAKOVSKY: The FAA and the airlines have said a couple of things. If they move them too far it could disrupt other paths. We've done some analysis and we don't believe that's the case. If they make significant changes here in Phoenix, there are a lot of changes going on throughout the nation. They are worried the effects of the precedent that could be set here in Phoenix could translate to other states.

TED SIMONS: Is Phoenix where it's the worst? Are there other areas that are even worse?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: There are a number of other cities in the U.S. where this new technology is being implemented. We've heard from those communities. One of the steps we're working with our council and our congressional delegation on is developing a coalition of cities who all have been impacted and are about to be impacted by these changes. We respect and appreciate the value of Nexgen and the safer technology, but it can't come at the expense of communities underneath the flight paths.

TED SIMONS: Is there a community that's having an especially hard time with this?

CHAD MAKOVSKY: I've heard in Boston, L.A., up in the bay area, San Jose, San Francisco, a lot of those airports have talked to us. We've talked to Denver and Minneapolis. I know there are many to come, Dallas for example just recently had this happen at their area. So we've had communities come to us and say, let's talk about this, maybe we can make some change congressionally if nothing else.

We are going through what's called a petition for judicial review. That process in and of itself is quite lengthy. It could take take up to months for this process to unfold. We waited until the very end before we took this step, but we think it's time to do that. We have filed a petition with the federal appeals court in the D.C. circuit. What will happen then is we will have the FAA go ahead and file their case. We will respond to their case, it goes back and forth a couple more times. We'll have oral argument I would expect, and then the court will take time to review it and come to a decision.

TED SIMONS: Sounds like a couple of years at best.

Good to have you here, to get the clarification on what's going on, especially with the city filing suit. Thanks for joining us.

CHAD MAKOVSKY: Absolutely.

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