City of Phoenix Seeks Judicial Review of FAA's
NextGen Changes in Arrival/Departure Routes

JUNE 2, 2015

The City of Phoenix has filed a petition for judicial review of the FAA's final decision on changes in arrival and departure flight paths at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The airport is owned and operated by the city. The "performance-based navigation" changes were implemented in September 2014 and are part of the agency’s national deployment of NextGen, a satellite-based air traffic control system replacing the existing ground-based system. Since the changes city officials have been swamped by noise complaints from residents who live under the new flight paths.

The city's petition (City of Phoenix v. Huerta, Case No. 15-1158, D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, filed June 1, 2015) calls for judicial review of the FAA’s 2014 implementation of the new routes in Phoenix airspace with an eye to rolling back these changes or at least adjusting route changes to address the noise concerns of residents.

The lawsuit followed months of unsuccessful negotiations between the city and the FAA to resolve the noise issues. On June 1 Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher wrote a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in which he said: “The FAA’s rearrangement of flight routes since September 18, 2014, upended decades of land-use compatibility planning that directed billions of dollars of private investment while the city invested hundreds of millions of dollars of noise mitigation efforts all based on previous stable flight tracks.” “FAA’s RNAV route changes have exposed tens of thousands of Phoenix residents to intolerable levels of noise that affect sleep, conversation and daily life. These residents were never given an opportunity to have a voice in the very process that has destroyed their quality of life.”

Before the changes in flight paths to and from Sky Harbor Airport the arrival and departure flight paths above the city were widely distributed over areas surrounding the airport. With the "performance-based navigation" changes all incoming and departing aircraft are directed into narrow flight corridors. As a result, some residents near Sky Harbor Airport have many more aircraft flying overhead daily than before. Other residents are now experiencing aircraft directly overhead, whereas before the route changes planes flew along one side or the other of the new flight paths.

On the day the city filed its petition for review of the FAA's NextGen system at Sky Harbor Airport, the administrator for the FAA's Western-Pacific Region, Glen Martin, wrote a letter to City Manager Ed Zuercher thanking the city for meeting with the FAA and airlines to address the Sky Harbor Airport noise issues. “We believe the discussions were productive and identified a number of adjustments that could provide some relief to the community,” Martin wrote. Martin also said in his letter that "the FAA is supportive of all the short-term options that were discussed."

Three days later the members of Congress who represent the Phoenix area amended the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2016 to stay the FAA’s flight path changes at Sky Harbor until the ongoing noise issues were resolved. “The changes were made without meaningful input or consultation with community members or civic leaders in the Phoenix area, and have caused severe noise disruption for the citizens of Phoenix and lowered their quality of life,” said Congressman Ruben Gallego. He added, “This amendment will ensure that the FAA does not proceed with changes to the regional airspace until the issues in Phoenix are resolved. It will also set a precedent regarding aircraft noise and its impact on local communities, as the NextGen program moves forward across the nation.”

UPDATE Sept. 4, 2016: The case of Story Preservation Association et al. v. FAA was consolidated with this case on Nov. 9, 2015, on a motion of the FAA (see Phoenix Neighborhood Groups Challenge FAA's Finding of "No Noise Impacts" from NextGen Flight Paths .

SOURCES: various articles on line and case pleadings.


City of Phoenix v. Huerta, Case No. 15-1158, D.C. Cir. U.S. Ct. App., filed June 1, 2015.
Attorneys for plaintiff City of Phoenix: John E. Putnam ( and Peter J. Kirsch (, both of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP.