The First Round in Petitioners' Challenge to the SoCal Metroplex Project

Because the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA’) airspace redesign projects throughout the United States have apparently negatively impacted hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people, and because we have received a number of requests for a discussion of the bases for the currently pending challenge to the FAA’s SoCal Metroplex airspace redesign project, a copy of the Opening Brief of Petitioners City of Culver City, California; Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association; Donald Vaughn; and Stephen Murray in Benedict Hills Estates Association, et al. v. FAA, et al., D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Case No. 16-1366 (consolidated with 16-1377, 16-1378, 17-1010 and 17-1029) can be accessed by clicking here.  Also filing briefs as Amici Curiae, or friends of the court, in support of Petitioners are the City of Los Angeles and the West Adams for Clear Skies.  

Challenge to FAA's Southern California Airspace Redesign Progresses

On Friday, March 16, 2018, Petitioners in Benedict Hills Estates Association, et al. v. FAA, et al., D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Case No. 16-1366 (consolidated with 16-1377, 16-1378, 17-1010 and 17-1029) filed an Opening Brief in their challenge to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) in its realignment of flight paths over heavily populated neighborhoods throughout Southern California.  The challengers strongly object to FAA’s emphasis on efficiency (i.e., savings in fuel consumption) by the airlines, to the exclusion of any consideration of the noise and emissions tradeoffs necessary to achieve the efficiency benefits of that tradeoff.  A more complete discussion of the basis for the challenge is set forth in an article published by Law360 on March 19, 2018, and can be accessed by clicking here.

Uber Flies High in FAA's Airspace

The Los Angeles Times reports that Uber, the ridesharing company, plans to extend its reach into the stratosphere by developing an “on-demand air transportation service.”  The plan appears to be that customers will use Uber’s surface transportation ride hailing system to hop a ride to a “vertiport” where an electrically powered aircraft will carry passengers to another vertiport at which they will be met by another phalanx of Uber drivers waiting to take otherwise stranded customers off the roofs of parking garages and into the traffic they supposedly avoided by using the proposed above ground transportation option.  

The purpose appears to be to allow customers to fly from one part of town to another.  Very creative, but shockingly absent all but one off-hand reference to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), and the federal government’s total dominance over the airspace of the United States, 49 U.S.C. § 40103(a), including the design and construction of airports, which definition includes “vertiports.” 14 C.F.R. § 157.2. 
Whether recognized or not, Uber’s scheme faces a host of questions, and potential regulatory objections, that range from the way in which such episodic operations will merge with the arrival and departure paths of conventional aircraft, to the noise of even electric aircraft operating over existing residential neighbors and pedestrians using city streets.  While these are, to a large extent, the same issues posed by the operation of unmanned aircraft, or drones, they are even more immediate in this case, because the proposed electric aircraft are larger, potentially louder, and, perhaps most importantly, impinge on conventional aircraft regulatory areas long controlled by the FAA.
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Two More Southern California Cities and an Airport Join Culver City in its Challenge to the FAA's Southern California Airspace Redesign

In an unusual alliance, the Southern California cities of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, as well as Orange County, owner and operator of John Wayne Airport (“JWA”), joined with Culver City to challenge the adequacy of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) Environmental Assessment (“EA”) and Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”) for the Southern California Metroplex OAPM (“Project”).  The Project is a redesign of the approaches and departures to and from more than a dozen Southern California airports.  Its stated purpose is to enhance “safety and efficiency” by consolidating the various flight paths to and from these airports by using area navigation (“RNAV”), instead of ground based radar, which requires the use of “waypoints” that, in turn, require dispersion of the aircraft over large areas, and, consequently, the consumption of more fuel.  

The various challenges are generally based on similar issues.  
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Culver City to Challenge SoCal Metroplex Project

Culver City has issued a Press Release announcing its intention to file a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration related to aircraft overflights.  Culver City has retained Barbara E. Lichman, Ph.D. of the firm of Buchalter Nemer to represent it its challenge to the SoCal Metroplex Environmental Assessment ("EA") and Finding of No Significant Impact and Record of Decision ("FONSI/ROD").  

Senate Monitors FAA Airspace Changes Through New Advisory Committee

The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016, passed by the United States Senate on April 19, 2016, and previously reported on in this publication, contains another provision that merits comment.  Section 2506, “Airspace Management Advisory Committee” was introduced by Senators McCain and Flake of Arizona, purportedly to provide a communication channel between the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) and the public concerning FAA programs for redesign of regional airspace over major public airports.   

The Senators were apparently motivated by their constituents after the FAA initiated a massive redesign of the airspace over the region surrounding Phoenix International Airport, causing substantial and widespread public outcry regarding perceived altitude changes and associated aircraft noise increases, especially over neighborhoods not previously overflown.  Despite these reported impacts, FAA found that the airspace changes created no significant aircraft noise impacts, and, thus, chose to document their determination with a categorical exemption from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. (“NEPA”).  The City of Phoenix instituted a two-prong approach in disputing this determination.  It first filed a lawsuit to halt the airspace changes, on the ground that, among other things, a categorical exemption is inapplicable where, among other things, there is a division of an established community caused by movement of noise impacts from one area to another, while at the same time utilizing the political approach by submitting section 2506 through Senators McCain and Flake.  
Despite its apparently noble purpose, section 2506 doesn’t quite live up to its publicity.
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Culver City and Inglewood Weigh in on SoCal Metroplex Project

On September 8 and October 8, 2015, the Cities of Culver City and Inglewood, California, filed original and supplemental comments, respectively, with the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) concerning the adequacy of its Draft Environmental Assessment (“DEA”) for the Southern California Metroplex (“SoCal Metroplex”) Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (“OAPM”) (“Project”).  The OAPM is one in a long line of airspace redesigns being implemented by FAA throughout the nation, for the purpose of narrowing the flight paths of approach and departure procedures around airports to facilitate use of satellite, rather than ground based, navigation, and thereby save fuel for the airlines.  The critical problem, as set forth in the attached comments, is that FAA failed to fully evaluate the noise, air quality and other impacts of these changes on communities surrounding airports.  

There is no set date, as yet, for the issuance of a Final Environmental Assessment, responding to the comments made on the DEA.  When that occurs, comments by interested parties are both important informationally and necessary in the event of further legal challenge.  

FAA Seeks Input from Governmental Entities Concerning Revised Air Traffic Routes Over Southern California

The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has scheduled six “briefings” with governmental jurisdictions potentially impacted by the planned “Southern California Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (SoCal OAPM)” (“Project”).  The Project is expected to involve changes in aircraft flight paths and/or altitudes in areas surrounding Bob Hope (Burbank) Airport (BUR), Camarillo Airport (CMA), Gillespie Field (SEE), McClellan-Palomar Airport (Carlsbad) (CRQ), Montgomery Field (MYF), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Long Beach Airport (LGB), Point Magu Naval Air Station (NTD), North Island Naval Air Station (NZY), Ontario International Airport (ONT), Oxnard Airport (OXR), Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), San Diego International Airport (SAN), Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA), Brown Field Municipal Airport (SDM), Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO), John Wayne-Orange County Airport (SNA), Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (TRM), Bermuda Dunes (UDD), Miramar Marine Corps Air Station (NKX) and Van Nuys Airport (VNY).   
These meetings are targeted at “key governmental officials/agencies” for the purpose of soliciting their views on the Environmental Assessment being prepared for the Project pursuant to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321.  The meetings will not be open to the public, although public meetings will be scheduled as well.  
It is important to note the regional scope of the planned airspace changes, and that they may redistribute noise, air quality, and other impacts over affected communities, thus implicating new populations, and simultaneously raising citizen ire in newly impacted communities.  It is therefore doubly important that governmental entities participate at the initiation of the process to ensure protection at its culmination.  
The governmental meetings are planned for the following locations and times:
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FAA Moves to Insulate Itself from Challenges to Clean Air Act Compliance in Airspace Redesigns

The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Reauthorization includes what can only be called an “earmark” that would allow the FAA to escape from compliance with the Clean Air Act on airspace redesign projects.

A proposed Amendment to the Reauthorization would allow FAA to categorically exclude from environmental review any NEXTGEN airspace redesign that will “measurably reduce aircraft emissions and result in an absolute reduction or no net increase in noise levels.” The Clean Air Act’s conformity provision, 42 U.S.C. section 7506, however, requires more for compliance than simply a “reduction in aircraft emissions.” Instead, the conformity rule provides, in pertinent part, that “[n]o department, agency or instrumentality of the Federal Government shall engage in, support in any way or provide financial assistance for, license or permit, or approve, any activity which does not conform to an implementation plan after it has been approved or promulgated [in a State Implementation Plan].” A determination of compliance with a State Implementation Plan (“SIP”) in turn, requires: (1) an inventory of all emissions from an existing airport and surrounding emission sources, including stationary sources, such as auxiliary power units and generating facilities, and mobile sources other than aircraft such as ground support equipment and automobiles; and (2) a comparison of the project’s emissions with the “baseline” established by the inventory. That comparison will determine if the project will result in an exceedance of the benchmark emissions levels established in the SIP.

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Here We Go Again - Another Airspace Redesign for the East Coast

As if seven years of wrangling were not enough, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now proposing changes to the current airspace utilization at Kennedy and Philadelphia International Airports.


From 2002 to 2009, governmental and private entities from Connecticut to Pennsylvania, including the State of Connecticut, various local jurisdictions in New York State, environmental organizations in New Jersey, and the County of Delaware, Pennsylvania negotiated with, and ultimately challenged, a comprehensive redesign of the airspace affecting approaches and departures to every airport in the North Eastern United States. Of greatest concern, were new flight paths over dense populations and numerous parks and nature preserves without even a cursory nod to required noise or air quality analysis.

After much contention, FAA got its way. Apparently, however, the East Coast Airspace Redesign didn’t quite work out, because FAA is at it again. First, ostensibly because of persistent delays at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia that were supposed to have been remedied by the panacea of the East Coast Airspace Redesign, hundreds of additional flights will be rerouted from JFK over residential areas in Northern and Central New Jersey. To add insult to injury, the changes will be made through an FAA rulemaking process, and not through the formal processes that characterized the first round of redesigns.

Similarly, the FAA is proposing a modification of the Class B airspace surrounding Philadelphia International Airport that will expand areas impacted by overflight to an even greater extent than did the East Coast Airspace Redesign.

In short, those who are looking down the barrel of these changes should take the opportunity to comment on FAA’s proposals, not only to foster dialogue with FAA concerning the ongoing, increasing and apparently inadequately studied procedures and their impacts, but also to exhaust administrative remedies for a legal challenge should FAA continue to “gild the lily” of the East Coast Airspace Redesign with additional enhancements, to the detriment of already impacted residents and businesses on the ground.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Review of the Federal Aviation Administration's Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)

In a recent report entitled Civil Aviation Growth in the 21st Century, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop strategies to integrate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review into the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) implementation planning process in a way that would make NextGen environmental reviews less costly and time-consuming.


In the report, the AIA acknowledges that: (1) redesign of terminal airspace by the FAA requires compliance with NEPA; (2) airspace redesign typically has potentially negative environmental impacts and does not qualify as a “categorical exclusion”; and (3) most often, airspace redesigns require an Environmental Assessment (EA). Every EA must result in either a ‘finding of no significant impact” (FONSI) or a more detailed “environmental impact statement” (EIS). Citing the historical duration and cost of FAA actions involving EAs and EISs, the AIA reports that industry stakeholders in NextGen are frustrated with the time-consuming and costly nature of the NEPA review process, consider it a major impediment to the timely rollout of the system, and would like to see additional efforts to expedite the NEPA process. Although the report does not expressly state that all NextGen EAs should result in a FONSI, it could reasonably be read to suggest that approach in order to save costs and fast-track the NEPA review process.

While it is true that NEPA review is costly and time-consuming, there should be no different, attenuated NEPA review process for NextGen than for any other Federally sponsored or funded project. To subject some arbitrarily chosen Federal projects to less stringent review than NEPA prescribes would require an amendment of NEPA (a highly unlikely eventuality). NextGen is no different than any other Federal effort, and the Congress has clearly spoken about the precise protocols that must be followed. Any initiative to the contrary, without a NEPA amendment, would be contrary to law.

Seeking to Overturn the Dismissal of its Challenge to the East Coast Airspace Redesign, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Files Petition for Certiorari to the U. S. Supreme Court

On Tuesday, November 17, 2009, Chevalier, Allen & Lichman filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of its client County of Delaware, Pennsylvania (“Delaware”). The Petition asks the Court to reverse the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in County of Rockland, New York, et al. v. Federal Aviation Administration, et al., and remand to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) for a decision consistent with Congress’ intent and instruction in the Conformity Provision of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7506.

Delaware argues that the FAA violated the Clean Air Act when, as the Court of Appeals acknowledged, the FAA “did not directly calculate the level of emissions” resulting from a redesign of approach and departure paths at five major airports across five states with five separate State Implementation Plans in the northeastern United States. The Court of Appeals went further and found that FAA “did not need to quantify the reduction [in emissions] in order to conclude the redesign was exempt from a conformity determination,” and assuming FAA’s omission was error, Petitioners had failed to prove the error harmful.

Delaware responds in its Petition that FAA’s failure to follow the clear mandate of the Clean Air Act to calculate emissions; do so within and with respect to each State’s Implementation Plan (“SIP”), 42 U.S.C. § 7506; or, in the alternative, apply the regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency for determining whether a project is subject to a de minimis exemption from conformity, 40 C.F.R. § 93.153(c) and (b), is both error and harmful, because FAA’s failure prejudices Delaware’s “substantial rights” in the expectation that Federal agencies will comply with the express mandates of Congress in statutes that, like the Clean Air Act, require specific results.

Finally, Delaware argues that the Court of Appeals’ decision not only threatens its substantial rights in the benefits granted by Congress, but also grants a “free pass” to all Federal agencies to rewrite the rules for compliance with the Clean Air Act.

A separate Petition for Writ of Certiorari was also filed by co-Petitioners in the underlying action State of Connecticut and Rockland County. Because the Supreme Court receives a vast number of Petitions, there is no set time frame within which Delaware expects to be notified of the Court’s decision. Obviously, however, Delaware believes that absent a favorable determination from the Supreme Court, its ability to exercise its responsibilities to ensure the public health and welfare under Pennsylvania law, as well as the individual rights of its citizens, will be seriously, and, perhaps, permanently jeopardized.

Aviation and Airport Development Updates

A summary review of Aviation and Airport Development related news and information that was made public during the past week. 

  • FAA Administrator Babbitt’s Pilot Fatigue Advisory Committee delivers its recommendationsAn advisory committee on pilot fatigue,convened by Administrator Babbitt, delivered its recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration late Tuesday, September 1, 2009.  Committee members said the FAA had asked them not to make their recommendations public. Although FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has promised to vet the recommendations swiftly and turn them into a formal proposal by the FAA, the process will take months to complete.  09/02/09, Denver Post, 
  • FAA gives Southwest until December 24, 2009,  to replace unapproved parts. The FAA will require Southwest Airlines to replace unapproved parts associated with hinge fittings for the exhaust gate assembly--and which help protect aircraft flaps from engine heat--by December 24, 2009.  All other unapproved parts made by the same vendor must also be located and disposed of, and results of aircraft inspections must be sent to the FAA daily.  09/01/09, FAA Press Release,
  • FAA tells Haines, Alaska, it cannot designate flight paths for helicopters.  Haines Borough, Alaska, is looking to eliminate flight-path restrictions and expand the number of clients that companies are permitted for commercial helicopter and heli-skiing activities.  The FAA has told the borough that it does not have the authority to regulate airspace, but borough leaders respond that they are only designating flight paths as a condition of a borough permit.  08/27/09, Chilkat Valley News,
  • Connecticut Governor furious about low-flying F-18s. Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell was incensed about a low-flying F-18 when neither the state of Connecticut nor the FAA had received advance notice about its flight.  A spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic stated that the aircraft operated in accordance with all FAA-approved visual flight rules and remained within speed and altitude restrictions.  08/29/09, Hartford Courant,
  • Expansion of Aero Country Airport in McKinney, Texas Causes Problems. McKinney City Council in Texas has approved development on the east side of the Aero Country Airport that could double its size; nearby residents oppose the expansion plans.  City By laws state that the City Council cannot reverse its decision, and Mayor Pro Tem Pete Huff seems unconcerned about homeowners who say they will move if the city does not halt the expansion, citing that the airport is part of the town.  08/27/09,,
  • FAA Announces $2.5M grant to soundproof homes in Key West.  The Federal Aviation Administration this week approved a $2.5 million grant to soundproof 38 homes impacted by noise at Key West International Airport.  08/29/09,,
  • FAA gives Miami-Dade $4.2M to extend main runway at Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport. The FAA gave Miami-Dade $4.2 million to extend the main runway at Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, which would allow heavier planes to use the airport to travel to and from destinations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. With an extended runway Kendall-Tamiami would be able to receive flights that would normally go to Miami International Airport. 08/28/09, South Florida Business Journal,
  • FAA signs ROD for Columbus (OH) Regional Airport Authority’s plan to move Columbus Airport’s runway farther south. Columbus Regional Airport Authority’s plans to relocate Port Columbus International Airport’s runway farther south along with other improvements has been approved by the FAA, contingent upon environmental remediation in the area. The next issue for the airport is a decision from the FAA on the level it will be funding the project; the government’s intent to fund only a smaller portion might require the airport authority to reapply.  08/28/09, Columbus Business First,
  • NTSB suggests to FAA new altitudes for Hudson Corridor.  The NTSB recommended new altitudes to the FAA for helicopters and planes over the Hudson Corridor to prevent something like the Aug. 8 midair collision that killed nine people from reoccurring. In the past, the FAA has often failed to heed NTSB suggestions, with many outstanding recommendations up to 10-15 years old.  08/27/09, The New York Times,
  • Connecticut Attorney General Blumenthal says he will take Airspace Redesign fight to Supreme Court.  Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is disappointed that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has denied an Aug. 19 request to reconsider its refusal to halt the new FAA airspace redesign project. Mr. Blumenthal is preparing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to overturn the ruling and override the FAA, since the FAA used defective data on noise and traffic and failed to follow its own rules and procedures. 08/26/09,,
  • FAA investigates Southwest regarding use of unauthorized parts.  FAA air-safety regulators are investigating unauthorized parts installed on at least 42 Southwest Airlines jets and why the carrier’s maintenance-control procedures failed to identify the problem. The suspect parts do not pose an “immediate safety issue” but planes were temporarily grounded. The controversy exemplifies continuing friction between airlines and federal regulators on how to deal with minor maintenance lapses.  08/26/09, Wall Street Journal,
  • Houston receives $8.8 million in grants from the FAA. The City of Houston Dept. of Aviation received $8.8 million in grants from the FAA to install new state-of-the-art equipment at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). The grants, awarded through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and Voluntary Airport Low Emission (VALE) program, will allow the purchase of equipment and vehicles that are expected to reduce emissions by up to 60 percent. 08/25/09, PRNewswire,


Three Petitions for Rehearing Filed in Airspace Redesign Matter

Several groups. individuals, cities, and counties who petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the FAA's decision to move forward with its redesign of the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania airspace have filed Petitions for Rehearing after the rather surprising D.C. Circuit ruled against them in an opinion that reeks of judicial indifference.  See, "D.C. Court of Appeals Decides Against Challenge to East Coast Airspace Redesign," posted June 11, 2009.


In order to obtain a  rehearing en banc (i.e., by all of the judges currently sitting on the D.C. Circuit), a petitioner must show:

  • The decision of the panel conflicts with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court or with the decisions of the D.C. Circuit; and/or
  • The proceeding involves "one or more questions of exceptional importance."

Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (FRAP) 35.  The intent of the rule is to "secure and maintain uniformity of the court's decisions."  Id.

The standard for obtaining a rehearing by the same panel of three judges who heard the matter the first time is slightly lower.  A petition for rehearing will be granted when the court agrees that points of law or fact were overlooked or misapprehended by the panel.  FRAP 40.  In this case, all three Petitions for Rehearing ask for both a rehearing en banc and a rehearing by the panel.

Delaware County's Petition for Rehearing

Delaware County's Petition focuses on the court's decision that the FAA complied with the conformity provisions of the Clean Air Act by providing a "fuel burn report" instead of a more comprehensive emission inventory  According to Delaware County, this position conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Department of Transportation v. Public Citizen, 541 U.S. 752 (2004) and two D.C. Circuit cases as well:  Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. EPA, 467 F.3d 1329 (D.C. Cir. 2006) and Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. EPA, 446 F.3d 140, 145 (D.C. Cir. 2006).  These cases, Delaware County argues, require scrupulous compliance with the Clean Air Act as well as the EPA's implementing regulations. 

The court's failure to hold the FAA to following the letter of the Clean Air Act and the EPA regulations not only conflicts with other decisions, but also presents an issue of exceptional public importance in that it contravenes  the express purpose of Congress in enacting the Clean Air Act.The D.C. Circuit recently held in Environmental Defense v. EPA, 467 F.3d 1329, 1336 (D.C. Cir. 2006) that the FAA "may not 'avoid the Congressional intent clearly expressed in the text simply by asserting that its preferred approach would be better policy.'"

In addition, Delaware County argues that the panel misapprehended several critical facts, not the least of which is the fact that the court based its rejection of one the Petitioners' critical arguments on the Petitioners not raising the issue in their Opening Brief.  The Petition for Rehearing cites the references in the Opening Brief where that issue was raised.

Finally, Delaware County contends that that the panel misapprehends the burden of proof necessary in this matter.  Under the holdings of Alabama Power v. Costle, 636 F.2d 323, 360 (D.C. Cir. 1979) and Association of Administrative Law Judges v. Federal Labor Relations Authority, 379 F.3d 957 (D.C. Cir. 2005) the burden is on the agency to fully document that an agency's action falls within a de minimis exemption.

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D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decides Against Challenge to East Coast Airspace Redesign

In a per curiam Abbreviated Disposition that will not be published, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit summarily denied 12 separately-filed petitions for review that questioned the legality of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Environmental Impact Statement for its East Coast Airspace Redesign. The matter, Rockland County v. Federal Aviation Administration, brought 12 lawsuits together that represented a multitude of petitioners from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The Court kicked all of the citizens’ complaints about the effect the Airspace Redesign would have on their environment to the curb, deferring to the FAA’s analysis.

The Court reached this conclusion without addressing many of the arguments that the Petitioners presented in their briefs and at oral argument. First, with respect to Petitioners’ argument that the EIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the court simply stated that it is deferring to the FAA’s reasoning that they did everything they needed to do. Not mentioned in the Court’s cursory and truncated analysis is the fact that the FAA has said that it will not implement the Night Routing part of the EIS’ “Preferred Alternative,” and the effect that failure will have on the environmental impacts of the Airspace Redesign.

Second, the Court also deferred to the FAA in deciding that the EIS sufficiently took into account the state and local parks and parklands that would be affected by the Airspace Redesign. The Court, states that the Petitioners should have engaged in a “battle of the experts” and should have “impugn[ed] the agency’s screening methodology.” Disposition, p.8. In most cases, impugning an agency’s methodology is looked upon in great disfavor by a court.

Finally, the Court decided that the Airspace Redesign fell within the de minimis exception of the Clean Air Act, thereby releasing the FAA from any requirement to perform any type of analysis as to the impact the project will have on the surrounding area’s air quality programs. The Court admitted that the FAA did not follow the procedures set forth by the EPA in 40 CFR 93.153, but the “fuel burn analysis” that the FAA did create was sufficient. This was true, the Court concluded, despite the fact that the “fuel burn analysis” was devoid of any mention of criteria pollutants or indirect emissions as required by EPA’s regulation 40 CFR 93.153. The Court went on to hold that any error that the FAA committed in not following the required air quality procedures was harmless error.

It is obvious why the Court does not want this decision published. It is rudimentary and lacking in analysis of many of the arguments presented by the Petitioners. Moreover, it is cursory in statements of law and fact. For example, on p. 10 of the Disposition, in a footnote, the court states:

The petitioners also argue that the fuel burn analysis failed to show the redesign will reduce emissions in all relevant nonattainment and maintenance areas, see 40 C.F.R. 93.153(b), but that argument is not properly before us because the petitioners failed to raise it until their reply brief, Sitka Sound Seafoods, Inc. v. NLRB, 206 F.3d 1175, 1181 (D.C. Cir. 2000).

In fact, the Petitioners had raised that issue in their opening brief, not once, but twice. See, Petitioners’ Joint Brief, pp. 88 and 93.

In the end, it is sad to see that a Court that prides itself on having many of its members become Supreme Court Justices, hide behind a per curiam decision that is so superficial and so careless. The Petitioners now have 45 days to decide whether to seek a rehearing or a rehearing en banc.

Other Articles on the subject:

Other posts on this blog about the Airspace Redesign:

East Coast Airspace Redesign Challenge Heard at D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

A multi-year challenge to the Federal Aviation Administration’s reorganization of the airspace in four East Coast states culminated on May 11, 2009 with oral argument at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals before Chief Judge David Sentelle, and Judges Douglas Ginsberg and Ray Randolph.  The litigation team was made up of 12 law firms representing public entities and environmental organizations from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  The team designated three of its members to present the oral argument: (1) Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General of the State of Connecticut; (2) Larry Liebesman, of Holland & Knight, representing communities in Rockland County, New York; and (3) Dr. Barbara Lichman of Chevalier, Allen & Lichman, representing Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  The FAA was represented by Department of Justice attorneys Mary Gay Sprague and Lane McFadden.

In the 30 minutes allotted to the opening presentation, the team emphasized the FAA’s failure to adhere to governing statutes and regulations in implementing the Airspace Redesign Project.  Specifically, Attorney General Blumenthal presented the Court with a litany of FAA lapses in conducting the analysis of the project’s noise impacts.  The Attorney General argued that the mistakes and omissions from the analysis resulted in artificial and inaccurate minimization of those impacts.  In addition, the Attorney General challenged FAA’s failure to reveal even the artificially minimized noise impacts to the affected public for review and comment, as it is obligated to do under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. 

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Petitioners File Reply Brief in East Airspace Redesign Case

On Friday, March 6, 2009, the Joint Petitioners in the East Coast Airspace Redesign case now pending in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, filed their Reply Brief, arguing that the FAA failed to comply with 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, the Clean Air Act and NEPA.

The Reply Brief takes the FAA to task for failing to consult with the state and local authorities regarding the tremendous impact that the Airspace Redesign will have on "4(f) properties," that is, state and local parks, and wildlife preserves.  It also points out that the FAA is in violation of the Clean Air Act, because it failed to establish that the Airspace Redesign would conform with the Clean Air Act.  Finally, the Reply Brief, argues that the FAA violated NEPA by not following its own regulations concerning aircraft noise in assessing the noise impacts of the Airspace Redesign.

Briefing for the case is now completed and oral argument is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.. on May 11, 2009, in front Judges Sentelle, Ginsburg, and Randolph at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, 333 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C..  Senators Dodd (D - Conn.) and Specter (R - Pa.) filed a amicus curiae brief supporting the Petitioners' Petition for Review to have the Airspace Redesign vacated and remanded back to the FAA.  The New Jersey Attorney General, Anne Milgram also filed an amicus brief in support of the Petitioners.

Other Posts regarding this Litigation:


D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Denies Petition for Review of FAA's "Presumed to Conform" Rule

On February 3, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a petition for review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) “presumed to conform rule.”  72 Fed.Reg. 41565 (July 30, 2007).  

Under the “presumed to conform rule” the FAA can avoid its obligation under the Clean Air Act to assure that its projects “conform to an implementation plan after it has been approved or promulgated under section 7410" of the Clean Air Act.  42 U.S.C. 7506(c).  The FAA used its presumed to conform rule as one of the justifications for its failure to perform a conformity determination in the East Coast airspace redesign.

Although the Court found that the Petitioners did not have standing to bring the petition for review, the petition was successful in at least a couple regards.  First, the decision was based on the predicate issue of standing, and did not reach the merits of the Petitioners’ argument that the FAA had not complied with federal law in the promulgation of its presumed to conform rule.  Thus, that argument may be raised by the Petitioners in the East Coast airspace redesign litigation now pending before the D.C. Circuit.

Second, by bringing this case, Petitioners exhausted their legal remedies with respect to a "facial" challenge to the FAA's presumed to conform rule.  The opinion in this case leaves the validity of the FAA’s presumed to conform rule on the table, ripe for the court’s consideration in the airspace redesign litigation.

That being said, the court’s opinion is not without error.  For example, the court states that the “Petitioners challenge two recent FAA actions in which the FAA altered the air traffic control activities at airports . . .” Opinion, p.4.  However, that, in fact, is not the case.  As stated in the Petitioners’ brief, the issue was whether the FAA followed the rules set out by the EPA in 40 CFR 93.153 in promulgating its presumed to conform rule.  By confusing the Petitioners’ facial challenge of the FAA’s presumed to conform rule for an “as applied” challenge, the court mistakenly applied incorrect facts and law to the matter that resulted in error in the outcome.

You can read the pleadings in this matter right here:

In addition, the EPA is revising the regulations governing conformity. They expect to issue new regulations in early 2009. A group of cities and concerned companies filed comments on the EPA’s proposed revisions and asked the EPA to eliminate the “presumed to conform” rule from the regulations.

Other blog posts on this topic:

FAA Files Its Brief In The East Coast Airspace Redesign Lawsuit

After several months of delays, the FAA filed its Brief for Federal Respondents in the East Coast Airspace Redesign case that is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  As expected, the brief alleges simply that the FAA performed the Environmental Impact Study for the airspace redesign "adequately" - which is all that is required under NEPA - "adequately" addressing cumulative impacts, "adequately" analyzing noise impacts, and "properly" assessing environmental justice impacts.

There is one interesting note contained in the Brief.  The FAA argues that the Airspace Redesign is "presumed to conform" with the Clean Air Act (Brief, p.108).  If the project is "presumed to conform" the FAA can forego its duty under the Clean Air Act from performing a conformity applicability analysis.  This position is contrary to the position that the FAA took in a lawsuit brought by Delaware County, Pennsylvania, in which the FAA argued the Airspace Redesign project did not rely on the presumed to

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FAA's 2009-2013 Flight Plan Includes 5 More Airports Due for an Airspace Redesign

On October 28, 2008, Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell rolled out the FAA's 2009-20013 "Flight Plan" at a speech in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  The "Flight Plan," in which FAA sets goals for itself, is "the strategic plan for the agency, the plan to help [the agency] prepare for the future."  In the past year, for example, as Acting Administrator Sturgell pointed out, the FAA "reached 25 out of 29 goals," with the remaining goals "probably" being achieved by November 20, 2008.  In other words, the goals set in the Flight Plan are projects and issues that the FAA has good reason to believe it can achieve over the stated planning horizon.

Priority one, according to the Flight Plan, is "dealing with congestion and delays . . . both in the air and on the ground.  Toward that end, the FAA plans to "identify and address capacity-constrained airports and metropolitan areas."  The FAA has identified Atlanta, Chicago Midway, Fort Lauderdale, John Wayne Orange County (CA), Las Vegas, Long Beach, Oakland, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco as being "capacity constrained" and provided these airports with a "toolbox" which includes "technological, procedural, and infrastructure improvements to be considered for implementation at airports based on additional capacity needs in the future."

In addition, in FY 2009, the FAA plans to "increase aviation capacity and reduce congestion in the 7 metro areas and corridors that most affect total system delay."  Those areas are:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Charlotte, New York and Philadelphia.  Apart from continuing the controversial airspace redesign for the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Metropolitan area, and the slot auctions for JFK, Newark and LaGuardia, which all spawned lawsuits, the FAA plans on moving forward with the redesign of the airspace for the remaining 7 metro areas.


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Despite GAO Ruling FAA Issues Congestion Management Rules for JFK, Newark and LaGuardia

In a gutsy move that is sure to draw the ire of Congressional leaders as well as the Air Transport Association, the FAA announced last Friday, October 10, 2008, that it had promulgated two "congestion management" rules:  one for LaGuardia Airport, and the other for JFK and Newark Airports.  In these rules, the FAA stated that it would proceed with its auctions of slots at the airports despite the GAO Report indicating that it was unlawful to do so. (See, GAO Declares FAA Does Not Have Legal Authority to Auction Slots).

The Rule for JFK and Newark and the Rule for Newark, which both become effective December 9, 2008, establish procedures to address "congestion in the New York City area by assigning slots" at the three airports in a way that the FAA believes will allow "carriers to respond to market forces to drive efficient airline behavior."  The JFK/EWR Rule extends the caps on the operation at the two airports, assigns to existing operators the majority of slots at the airports, while the LGA Rule grandfathers the majority of operations at the airport.  The FAA claims that both Rules will develop a "robust" secondary market by annually auctioning off a limited number of slots in each of the first five years of this rule.  The FAA states that the proceeds of the auction will be used to mitigate congestion and delay in the New York City area.  Finally, the Rule also contains provisions for minimum usage, capping unscheduled operations, and withdrawal for operational need.  Leases obtained in the first auction will start on October 25, 2009.

Most of the Federal Register notice announcing the promulgation of the Rules is spent justifying the Rules in the face of the GAO's report that concluded that the FAA did not have the authority to auction the slots.  The FAA concludes that "the issues involved represent novel legal issues upon which reasonable poeple, and agencies, acting in good faith, have disagreed.  The FAA disagrees with the GAO conclusions and has decided to proceed with the adoption of this final rule."

An analysis of the legal statements will be forthcoming in future blogs.

The "Tragedy of the Commons" and Airport Congestion Management

In 1968, Garrett Hardin, a professor of Human Ecology at University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote an influential article for the journal Science that described a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.  Prof. Hardin titled this dilemma and his article the “Tragedy of the Commons.”  The current situation at this country’s busiest airports, a shared resource, is a graphic example of the Tragedy of the Commons.

In Prof. Hardin’s article, the central theme is that herders share a common parcel of land, i.e., the commons, on which they are all entitled to let their cattle graze.  It is in each herder’s interest to put as many cattle as possible onto the commons, even if it is damaged as a result.  The herder receives all of the benefits from the additional cattle, but damage to the commons is shared by the entire group.  If all the herders make this individually rational decision, however, the commons is destroyed.

A parallel can be drawn to the sttructure of the United States air transportation system with respect to congestion management.  It is in the each airline’s interest to schedule as many flights as possible during the busiest time of day, even if those flights are substantially delayed as a result thereby overloading the airspace system and the airport, taxing customers’ patience, and damaging the airline’s reputation.  Each of the airlines receives benefits from the additional flights, but the damage to the airport, the airspace system and the airlines is shared by the entire group. 

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New Jersey Attorney General Files Amicus Brief in Airspace Redesign Litigation

On September 10, 2008, Anne Milgram, the New Jersey Attorney General filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Petitioners in the Airspace Redesign litigation currently pending in Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  In it, the New Jersey Attorney General emphasizes the impact that the Airspace Redesign will have on New Jersey's air quality and the FAA's abject failure to address those air quality issues.

The amicus brief "concurs with and joins" in Petitioners' argument that the Airspace Rdesign is not exempt from the Clean Air Act or EPA regulations, that FAA's presumption of conformity for air traffic control procedures is not applicable to the Airspace Redesign; and that neither FAA's regulations nor the record in this matter supports FAA's "fuel burn study."  The amicus brief goes on to state that the issues that face New Jersey as a result of the FAA' decision, including inhibiting New Jersey's ability to comply with the NAAQS under the Clean Air Act.

The brief also mentions that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because the Airspace Redesign was approved on the basis of an inadequate environmental impact statement.  In particular, the brief argues that the EIS failed "to adequately inform the public of the noise impacts of the Airspace Redesign."

This brief, coupled with the brief that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) filed on September 5, 2008, provide the court with additional reasons why the EIS must be remanded back to the FAA for further consideration.

Sens. Specter and Dodd file a Joint Amicus Brief in East Coast Airspace Redesign Litigation

Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) filed a amicus curiae brief on Friday, September 5, 2008

The Brief makes three arguments: how the FAA did not give appropriate weight to noise reduction in balancing the alternatives for the Airspace Redesign Project, how the FAA failed to give appropriate weight to noise reduction, which is inconsistent with Congressional Intent, and how the FAA's current interpretation that safety and efficiency are much more important than noise reduction is inconsistent with its prior interpretations of the relevant statutes.

The Senators in their brief point to several instances where Congress directed the FAA to protect exposed populations from the harm of aircraft noise, concluding that "given this history, the FAA's policy of considering noise mitigation only 'where feasible' cannot withstand scrutiny."  Likewise, the Senators point out that members of Congress have "criticized the FAA for the lack of weight afforded to noise reduction as a goal of the redesign plan."  Thus, the Senators conclude, the FAA "failed to heed its mandate to integrate noise reduction with its other laws, regulations, and policies for the redesign plan.

The FAA's Brief is due December 12, 2008.

News Articles regarding the amicus Brief by Sens. Specter and Dodd:

Delaware County Daily Times, September 8, 2008.

Danbury News Times, September 8, 2008.

GAO Issues Report On The FAA's East Coast Airspace Redesign

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued its long awaited "FAA Airspace Redesign:  An Analysis of the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania Project."  Although the GAO promised to publish the report by August 1, 2008, it waited until the same day the Petitioners in the Airspace Redesign litigation filed their opening brief to publish the Report.  Although the GAO promised members of Congress to examine "to what extent did FAA follow key legal procedures and requirements in conducting its environmental review" (p.3), it failed to take into two important aspects of the FAA's environmental review of its Airspace Redesign project, namely the Clean Air Act and section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act (for a full treatment of these issues, see the Joint Brief filed by the 12 sets of Petitioners in the Airspace Redesign litigation).

The GAO, making several critical assumptions about the Project, found, in general, that the FAA's approach, at least with respect to NEPA, was "reasonable."  First, the GAO found that the statement of the project's purpose and need, which, according to the GAO, was to increase the efficiency and reliability of the airspace while maintaining safety and reducing delays, was reasonable.  Most importantly, the GAO concluded that the FAA "reasonably excluded noise reduction."  Second, the GAO found that the FAA developed a reasonable range of alternatives.  Third, the FAA acted reasonably in not analyzing the indirect environmental effects of potential growth, the GAO said, resulting from the redesign.  Next, the GAO opined that the FAA reasonably involved the public throughout the environmental review process.  Finally, the GAO found that the FAA satisfied environmental justice directives in Executive Order 12898 and implementing CEQ guidance and DOT Order.

The GAO did identify some limitations to the FAA's methodology, but concluded that the FAA was not required by law to address them.  These "limitations" included the fact that because the FAA assumed that traffic demand and flight operations would not increase in response to airspace system improvements, the FAA did not account for the potential effect of the system improvements in its operational analysis.  Second, the FAA did not fully assess the uncertainty associated with each alternative estimated impacts.  And when the purported benefit of the Project is only a 0.8% reduction in fuel burnt, that "limitation" becomes more important.  Finally, the GAO believed that the FAA should have undertaken an analysis of the economic impacts using both an uncertainty analysis and a benefit-cost analysis.

What the GAO Report did not take into account are two important statutory requirements that are outside of NEPA's procedural requirements.  First, the GAO failed to take into account the fact that the FAA did not perform a "conformity applicability analysis" as required by the Clean Air Act, EPA regulations, and FAA orders.  The air quality in the areas around Philadelphia and New York are subject will be affected by the Airspace Redesign and there is no analysis anywhere in the FAA's environmental review regarding air quality.  Second, the GAO did not report on the FAA's failure to properly take section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act into account.  Section 4(f) protects federal, state and local natural areas from the environmental effects of Federal transportation projects.  The GAO Report did not mention the FAA's failure to properly identify and account for the environmental effects of the Project on those natural areas.

In the end, then, the GAO failed to answer the first question posed by Congress:  "to what extent did FAA follow key legal procedures and requirements in conducting its environmental review?"  Without a discussion of the Clean Air Act and 4(f), the Report is incomplete.

FAA Suspends Auction of Flight Slot at Newark Airport

It is being reported by several news outlets that the FAA has suspended its auction of flight slots at Newark Airport.  The auction was slated for September 3, 2008.  According to Bloomberg News the Order, issued by FAA Chief Counsel, Kerry Long, stated that "[t]he protesters have demonstrated compelling reasons to maintain the status quo'' pending a study of their objections. 

This is just the latest in a series of events that all relate to the FAA's redesign of the airspace in the New Yor, New Jersey and Philadelphia area.  It began with the Airspace Redesign decision last September, continued through the "congestion management" rules for JFK and Newark as well as  for LaGuardia, and on the "written re-evaluation" of those rules that the FAA tied back to the Airspace Redesign.

The Order was in response to a Protest filed five major airlines, Northwest, Delta, Continental, US Air, and United, along with the Air Transport Association (ATA) with the FAA's Office of Dispute Resolution for Acquisition. Click here for the New York Times articleClick here for the Forbes article.

The Air Transport Association issued the following statement in response to Chief Counsel Long's Order:

We are pleased that the FAA Office of Dispute Resolution Acquisition has granted our request for suspension of the September 3 auction of two slots at Newark airport and fully expect that the process will result in a determination that FAA lacks the legal authority to conduct the auction.

The Air Transport Association had previously, on August 11, 2008, filed a Petition for Review in the D.C. Circuit asking the court to overturn the FAA's decision to hold slot auctions for Newark.

Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters issued a statement through her spokeman, Brian Turmail, indicating that "[t]oday's disappointing delay means travelers will have to wait a little longer for relief from the high fares, stagnant service and limited competition."  However, the FAA "remain[s] highly confident of a speedy and favorable ruling in this matter.''



FAA's Presumed to Conform Rule Will Affect Communities Around Airports

In February, 2007, almost as an after-thought, theFAA included changes to air traffic control procedures to its Presumed to Conform rule. This last minute addition has the potential to seriously impact communities around the airports where these changes to air traffic control procedures take place. 

Why will this obscure regulatory change affect communities? First, a little background on the subject will be helpful. Air quality and noise are the primary concerns of communities around airports. Since Federal law severely limits the ability of communities to affect the amount of noise produced at airports, many communities have focused on protecting their air quality. The conformity provisions of the Clean Air Act provide a useful tool in that regard. They require that all Federal agencies ensure that their projects will not affect the State Implementation Plan (SIP), which is a plan drafted by the state and approved by the EPA in order to come into compliance with other provisions of the Clean Air Act. This “conformity determination” provides communities around airports with needed data concerning the effect the agency’s action will have on the air quality. Moreover, if the Federal agency fails to perform a conformity determination or fails to do it properly, then that it is grounds for the community to object to the Federal agency’s action as a whole.


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GAO Testifies That The FAA's Congestion Management Program Will Have Limited Effect on Reducing Delays

During July, the Government Accounting Office issued several reports regarding various aviation topics.  One of the topics not covered was the East Coast Airspace Redesign, which was supposed to be issued at the end of July, but now probably will not be issued until the end of August.

Of particular interest was the issuance, on July 15, 2008, of the testimony of Ms. Susan Fleming, the GAO Director of Physical Infrastructure, National Airspace System: DOT and FAA Actions Will Likely Have a Limited Effect on Reducing Delays during Summer 2008 Travel Season given to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security.  Over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in flight delays and cancellations, such that a delay at O'Hare or Hartsfield would have a ripple effect across the National Airspace System. The DOT estimated that more than one in four flights either arrived late or was canceled in 2007, making it one of the worst years for delays in the last decade. As a result of the East Coast Airspace Redesign, the delays and cancellations evident at the three New York metropolitan commercial passenger airports--Newark Liberty International (Newark), John F. Kennedy International (JFK), and LaGuardia caused the FAA to propose and promulgate several actions in attempt to reduce congestion and delays. 

Ms. Fleming's testimony addresses (1) the trends in the extent and principal sources of flight delays and cancellations over the last 10 years, (2) the status of federal government actions to reduce flight delays and cancellations, and (3) the extent to which these actions may reduce delays and cancellations for the summer 2008 travel season. This statement is based on an analysis of DOT data on airline on-time performance, a review of relevant documents and reports, and interviews with officials from DOT, FAA, airport operators, and airlines, as well as aviation industry experts and associations. DOT and FAA provided technical comments which were incorporated as appropriate.

Of particular interest is the fact that Ms. Fleming's testimony states that "to reduce delays and congestion beginning in summer 2008, DOT and FAA are implementing several actions that for the purposes of this review GAO is characterizing as capacity-enhancing initiatives and demand management policies." Some of these actions are already in effect, such as 11 of the 17 short-term initiatives designed to improve capacity at the airport or system level and the hourly schedule caps on operations at the New York area airports.  

FAA Issues "Written Re-Evaluation" of East Coast Airspace Redesign Record of Decision

In a rather odd, unusual statement, the FAA issued on July 31, 2008, a "Record of Decision and Written Re-Evaluation of the New York\New Jersey\Philadelphia Metropolitan Area Airspace Redesign Final Environmental Impact Statement."  In response to several requests for supplemental EIS to deal with the congestion management orders for JFK, LaGuardia and Newark, the FAA prepared the "Written-Re-Evaluation" "to consider whether these Orders Limiting Scheduled Operations and the new rates and charges amendments, either affected the purpose and need for the Airspace Redesign project, or altered the reported environmental impacts."  To no one's surprise, the FAA concluded that there is no "significant new information warranting preparation of a new or supplemental EIS for the Airspace Redesign project."  Since this strange document, coming 11 months after the initial Record of Decision and 29 days before the Petitioners' Brief in the Airspace Redesign litigation is due, is a "Record of Decision," anyone objecting to the ROD may file a Petition for Review within sixty days of July 31, 2008.

What remains to be seen is what effect this document will have on the on-going litigation, the GAO report (which was due out July 31, 2008, but probably will not be issued until the end of August), and the increasing political pressure that is being put on the FAA to reconsider the entire project.

FAA Issues Order Limiting Scheduled Operations at Newark Liberty

The FAA first proposed limiting scheduled operations at Newark Liberty in a proposed order that was published in March 18, 2008, Federal Register.  The FAA has now, on May 21, 2008, issued its Order limiting scheduled operations at Newark Liberty Airport.  In the Order states:

  • Takes effect at 6:00a.m. on June 20, 2008;
  • Total air carrier operations will not exceed 81 per hour between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.;
  • The order sunsets on October 24, 2009;
  • Air carriers have been assigned "Operating Authorizations," for specific time slots and operations (i.e., departure or arrival);
  • In order to maintain the Operating Authorizations, the air carrier must use them at least 80% of the time;
  • The Operating Authorizations can be sold and traded, so long as the air carrier has maintained the 80% usage prior to selling or trading. 

The FAA hopes that this will alleviate congestion and delays at Newark Liberty.

Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters told FAA’s Aviation Forecast Conference in March, 2008, that she believed that the caps at Newark will actually result in an increase in operations at Newark Liberty. She stated that “overall, the caps at Newark allow 30 more operations per day than were offered last summer – just more reasonably spaced."  The question remains, however, whether caps will achieve the goals of reducing delays and congestion without an economic impact on the airlines and quality of life impact on the surrounding communties. 

Alfred Kahn, the Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board under President Carter, in a recent working paper, stated his belief that congestion pricing would be a better approach.  He argues that the allocation of scarce airport resources is an economic problem and should be treated as such, therefore, air carriers should pay for the privilege of taking-off or landing at particular times.

With the summer travel season almost here, we will see what effect the caps at Newark and JFK will have on delays at the airport and noise in the community.

FAA Proposes Congestion Management Rule for JFK and Newark Liberty

In the May 21, 2008, issue of the Federal Register, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed a new rule affecting two airports that are a part of the East Coast Airspace Redesign.  The FAA proposes to establish procedures to address congestion in the New York City area by assigning slots at JFK and Newark Liberty Airports in a way that allows carriers to respond to market forces to drive efficient airline behavior.

  • The FAA's proposed rule is similar in many respects to its proposal for LaGuardia airport. 
  • This proposal, however, takes into account the fact that both JFK and Newark have a large number of international flights, which implicates FAA's international obligations. 
  • The FAA proposes to
    • extend the caps on the operations at the two airports,
    • assign to existing operators the majority of slots at the airports, and
    • create a market by annually auctioning off a limited number of slots in each of the first five years of this rule.
The proposed rule offers two alternatives in the method of assigning slots at the airport. Under the first alternative:
  • the assignment of slots at JFK and Newark would be conducted through a uniform mechanism.
  • The FAA would auction off a portion of the slots and would use the proceeds to mitigate congestion and delay in the New York City area.
Under the second alternative, the same auction procedure would apply at Newark as under the first alternative but at JFK the auction proceeds would go to the carrier holding the slot rather than to the FAA.

For both alternatives, this proposal also contains:
  • provisions for minimum usage,
  • capping unscheduled operations, and
  • withdrawal for operational need.
The FAA proposes to sunset the rule in ten years. Continue Reading...

Update on East Coat Airspace Redesign Litigation

As is well known, the FAA's Record of Decision on September 5, 2007 (and subsequently amended on October 5, 2007) regarding the NY/NJ/PA Airspace Redesign generated a host of litigation.  Twelve Petitions for Review were filed in three different Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal. Seven petitions from counties, municipalities and organizations in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey were filed in the Third Circuit, located in Philadelphia. Three petitions from the State of Connecticut as well as towns and groups of towns in Connecticut were filed in Second Circuit, located in New York. And two petitions from one county in New York and a New York organization were filed in the D.C. Circuit. Because the first petition filed was in the D.C. Circuit, the Court, by  orders on February 14, 2008 and on March 10, 2008, consolidated all of the petitions in the D.C. Circuit.

Since all of the petitions were consolidated, the D.C. Circuit requested that all of the petitioners devise a proposal as to the format for briefing on this matter. Pursuant to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals'
March 18, 2008, Order, on April 17, 2008, all of the Petitioners filed a Joint Proposal for Briefing with the court.  Following the court's strict guidelines, the Petitioners suggested to the court that they file one brief covering all of the issues presented by all of the Petitioners that is substantially longer than a normal brief.  Contained in the one brief, however, will be the specific complaints of each of the petitioners. In addition, the Petitioners set out a briefing schedule that took into account the fact that twelve groups of attorneys would be working on a single brief. Thus, the Petitioners suggested that their brief be due on August 1, 2008, the FAA’s brief to be due on October 31, 2008, and the Petitioners’ Reply brief be due on December 19, 2008. These dates and the format of the briefs were agreed to by the Department of Justice, who is representing the FAA in all of the matters.

Airspace Redesign May Not Decrease Fuel Consumption For The Airlines As The FAA Claims

In both the Record of Decision (ROD) and the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Airspace Redesign, the FAA states that there will be a decrease in emissions from aircraft as a result of the airspace redesign because the aircraft will burn less fuel.  To support this theory, the FAA relies upon a cobbled-together "Fuel Burn Analysis" that is nowhere to be found in any of the FAA's orders or procedures.

However, even with the ginned-up fuel burn analysis, it is now becoming apparent that there may be no savings in fuel to be derived from instituting the Airspace Redesign's preferred alternative.  Using the information provided in the Appendix R of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and the TAAM output files that were included in the Administrative Record as document 9285, Clean Air Act consultant Dan Meszler, of Meszler Engineering Services, concluded that the "Preferred Alternative" would seemingly increase fuel consumption.

On the following page is an excerpt from Mr. Meszler's Report, along with a table showing the differences between fuel consumption reported in the FEIS and fuel consumption based on the TAAM data that was included in the Administrative Record.

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