Laguna Settles Suit Against FAA

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A map of the prescribed flight path from John Wayne Airport crosses the coastline at Salt Creek Beach, though some noise-impacted residents in South Laguna say aircraft stray from the route.
A map of the prescribed flight path from John Wayne Airport crosses the coastline at Salt Creek Beach, though some noise-impacted residents in South Laguna say aircraft stray from the route.

The city of Laguna Beach announced reaching a settlement this week in its year-old lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration, which challenged flight path deviations from John Wayne Airport that bombarded some residents with noise.

The pact for the first time formalizes a pledge by aviation regulators to adhere to the newly designated departure path and to discourage deviations except for safety reasons, City Manager John Pietig said. “It’s the first time we’ve had this understanding in writing,” he said.

Local resident and airport noise critic Michele Monda dismissed the agreement as “worthless” because it makes no gains in pressing the FAA to alter the existing flight paths to higher elevations in order to lessen noise impact on the ground.

Changes in flight patterns were introduced last year as part of the FAA’s Southern California Metroplex project, which aimed to replace long-used, ground-radar air traffic management with a GPS satellite system and streamlined routes, according to the Metroplex website.

“We got nothing in this deal; the FAA always wanted this flight path.  Now we’re stuck with it. The FAA got to formalize and legitimatize their NextGen Flight path with Laguna’s blessing,” Monda said.

The current NextGen flight path for departures from John Wayne heading east directs pilots to arc southward over the ocean and head inland by crossing the coast south of Laguna Beach above 10,000 feet. To ensure planes are ascending over land at a noise-buffering altitude, aircraft are supposed to cross a way-point offshore Dana Point Harbor at an elevation of 7,000 feet, Monda explained.

She said the procedures are inadequate. “That’s what wakes me up in the morning at 7:04,” said Monda, whose home is behind Mission Hospital in South Laguna.

Monda helped organize Citizens for No Plane Noise, which drew 500 people to a meeting in Laguna Niguel last May. Changes in flight patterns created more noise, more exhaust residue, and air traffic in parts of the county where there never was before, said a statement from Third District Supervisor Todd Spitzer earlier this month. Spitzer represents the Tustin area, in the flight path of arriving aircraft.

“Dana Point will be unhappy next,” Monda predicted.

Both the city of Newport Beach and the County of Orange earlier this month entered into different settlement agreements with the FAA, which challenged different aspects of the NextGen flight patterns.

In a statement, Pietig said the number of commercial jets departing John Wayne Airport that overflew Laguna’s 8.5 miles of coastline has dropped in the past three years and city officials were concerned that Metroplex plans might alter that trend.

In an interview, Pietig said city officials learned that air traffic controllers allowed variation in flight paths at the request of pilots trying to save time or fuel.

The legal settlement “helps secure our understanding of where the planes are supposed to go,” Pietig said. “We’ve been working with them to get greater compliance.”

As part of the settlement, the FAA agreed to monitor flight path trajectories for a year and to provide the city with quarterly reports on the results.


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