Northern California Residents Sue for Review of FAA's
Finding of "No Noise Impacts" from NextGen Flight Paths

SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

Several Northern California residents have filed a petition for judicial review of the FAA's decision not to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for new NextGen flight paths to and from the four largest commercial airports in northern California. The FAA ruled in a final decision on July 31, 2014, that the new flight paths through a broad region of the state termed the "Northern California Metroplex" will have no significant noise impacts. The petition was filed Sept. 26, 2014 in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal (Lyons et al. v. FAA, Case No. 14-72991).

The Northern California Metroplex airspace includes traffic to and from San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, San Jose International Airport -- all in the San Francisco Bay Area -- plus the Sacramento International Airport further north.

In its effort to modernize navigation through the national air space, the FAA is developing instrument procedures that use advanced technologies. This broad effort is known as NextGen. A primary technology being applied in NextGen is known as "area navigation" or RNAV. RNAV uses global positioning system (GPS) technology to allow an RNAV-equipped aircraft to fly a more efficient route. The more efficient route is determined by instrument guidance that references an aircraft’s position relative to ground-based navigational aids or satellites.

The FAA prepared a screening analysis (or environmental assessment, EA) of its proposed reconfiguration of flight paths within the Northern California Metroplex -- known as Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (“NorCal OAPM”) -- and from that it determined the new RNAV-based flight paths would have "no significant impact" and thus a full-blown environmental impact statement (EIS) was not necessary. (See the Environmental Assessment for the NorCal OAPM.) Petitioners in the Lyons v. FAA case argue that the FAA’s finding of "no significant impact" (or ”FONSI”) was arbitrary and capricious because the FAA relied on inadequate flight track information and failed to analyze and consider cumulative noise impacts.

Petitioners have posed the following issues in their petition to the court:

1. Did the FAA arbitrarily and capriciously predetermine the results of its inquiry into whether there would be significant noise impacts?

2. Was the noise modeling used by FAA rendered arbitrary or capricious by lack of information regarding flight paths under the new procedures?

3. Was it arbitrary or capricious for FAA to assume that use of the new procedures would not result in more air traffic?

4. Was it arbitrary or capricious for FAA to find that there would be no significant cumulative noise impacts from the proposed new flight paths and other possible actions in the area?

An additional issue is whether petitioners waived their first, third and fourth claims by failing to raise these issues in their comments on the draft EA.

SOURCE: Pleadings in the case.


Lyons et al. v. FAA, Case No. 14-72991, 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal, filed Sept. 26, 2014. (Documents available from Pacer.)
Plaintiffs attorney Thomas V. Christopher (, 415.659.1805).