On Thursday, July 8, 2021, the City of Culver City and its co-Petitioner, City of Los Angeles, prevailed in the case of City of Los Angeles, et.al. v. Stephen Dickson, et al. against the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) on substantially all claims, an almost unprecedented outcome for local governments against a federal agency acting within its area of expertise. In that case, Petitioners challenged FAA’s failure to perform any environmental review, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. (“NEPA”) before implementing changes in aircraft flight tracks that lowered altitudes and consolidated flight tracks over residential areas not previously overflown, resulting in continuing and vociferous community opposition. That challenge was brought in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit under its original jurisdiction, 49 U.S.C. § 46110, in the adjudication of challenges to FAA actions.

Because these operational changes were part of a larger national program of airspace changes called FAA’s NextGen project, aimed at reducing distances aircraft must fly on arrival to airports, Petitioners’ victory has implications for communities throughout the nation over which FAA has persisted in implementing flight track changes under the guise of the NextGen Project, in each and every case without the benefit of required environmental review.


Continue Reading Buchalter Wins National Victory

The citizens’ organization, Quiet Skies, made up of communities around the nation impacted by airport operations, is making its views about the increasing impacts of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) NextGen initiative known to new Secretary of Transportation Buttigeig at the very dawn of his tenure. Alison Pepper, a Quiet Skies activist, has drafted a

Communities challenging, or considering a challenge, to the noise and other impacts from low-flying aircraft, enabled in new flight paths and altitudes by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) NextGen Initiative, may find some comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. Communities from coast to coast, even including communities that are themselves airport proprietors, have recently joined the group of communities that earlier brought legal action against FAA to vindicate their citizens’ interests, some of which suits are only now approaching decision.

First chronologically, the City of Los Angeles, owner and operator of Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”), brought suit in December 2019, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, challenging a southerly shift in flight tracks of departing aircraft from Bob Hope (Hollywood-Burbank) Airport, City of Los Angeles v. FAA, Case No.19-73164, alleging FAA either failed to review the revised flight paths under NEPA, or failed to take action required by law to ensure reasonable compliance with assigned flight tracks. In its opposition, FAA first argued that it is not responsible for the divergence from established flight tracks, but, rather, it is due to “Acts of God,” such as wind, weather, and flocks of birds. It was only months later, when FAA realized that excuse wouldn’t “fly,” that it assumed responsibility by claiming the need to “vector” aircraft off established flight tracks for safety purposes. After Court-supervised mediation efforts were unsuccessful, briefing was completed in September 2020, but no decision has been made by the Court to date. That case is not by any means the end of the story.


Continue Reading Communities Challenging NextGen Are In Good Company

On August 19, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) published a proposed rule regarding “Implementation of Legislative Categorical Exclusion for Environmental Review of Performance Based Navigation  Procedures,” 79 Fed.Reg. 49141 (“CATEX Rule”) to implement the Congressional mandate contained in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Pub.L. 112-95 (“FRMA”), § 213, directing FAA “to issue and file a categorical exclusion for any navigation performance or other performance based  navigation (PBN) procedure that would result in measureable reductions in fuel consumption, carbon  dioxide emissions, and noise on a per flight basis as compared to aircraft operations that follow existing instrument flight rule procedures in the same airspace.”  79 Fed.Reg. 41941.

FAA was motivated to request public review of the CATEX Rule by the exceptions in FMRA that limits the change in the environmental review requirements to: (1) PBN procedures (excluding conventional operational procedures and projects involving a mix of both), FMRA § 213(c)(2); and (2) those in which there are measurable reductions in fuel consumption, carbon dioxide emissions and noise on a per flight basis, Id., see also, 79 Fed.Reg. 49142, citing FMRA § 213(c)(1).  In addition, FAA feels it necessary to further explore the consequent recommendations of the industry group appointed to develop a metric to capture the new requirement, the NextGen Advisory Committee (“NAC”), made up of 28 members from the “airlines, airports, manufacturers, aviation associations, consultants, and community interests.”  Id.
 


Continue Reading FAA Seeks Comments on Exemption from Environmental Review for New Airspace Procedures

Exemption of NextGen procedures from environmental review is not the only issue raised by the FAA Reauthorization legislation set to be approved by the United States Senate on Monday, February 6 at 5:30 p.m. EST.  Section 505 of the Conference Version of the Bill allows a public entity taking private residential properties by eminent domain for airport purposes to pay the value of the property after its value has been diminished by the pendency of the project itself, and by any delay by the public entity in purchasing the property.  In other words, the Congress is overriding the long held judicial precept that “temporary takings are as protected by the Constitution as are permanent ones.”  See, e.g., First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. Los Angeles County, California, 482 U.S. 304, 318 (1987).


Continue Reading FAA Reauthorization Act Changes Rules for Valuation of Residential Properties

As we reported yesterday in our blog titled “FAA Reauthorization Act Exempts Next Generation Airspace Redesign Projects from Environmental Review,” Congress is set to act on the conference version of H.R. 658 (“Act”), a Bill the nominal purpose of which is to fund the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) for 2011-2014, a task Congress has been unable or unwilling to accomplish for the last two years. 

The legislation goes far beyond funding, however.  Toward another stated purpose – to “streamline programs” – the Act sets out the parameters for establishment and operation of FAA’s Next Generation Transportation System (“NextGen”).  Not stopping there, it also “creates efficiencies” by exempting the NextGen program from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. (“NEPA”), Act, § 213.  Thus, whole communities around at least 30 “core” airports might be newly impacted by aircraft overflights seemingly without the opportunity for public review and comment before the NextGen project is implemented, and without an avenue of leverage in the courts afterwards.  All is not yet lost, however.
 


Continue Reading There May Still Be Time to Weigh in on the Congressional Action to Exempt the NextGen Technologies from NEPA Review

In a monument to political deal making, the United States Congress is today considering, in the House and Senate Aviation Committees, the "FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012," H.R. 658 ("Act") to, among other things, "authorize appropriations to the Federal Aviation Administration for fiscal years 2011-2014 . . ." It is, however, the other provisions of the legislation which most profoundly affect the public.   

Purportedly to "streamline programs, create efficiencies, reduce waste and improve safety and capacity," the most recent version of the Act to emerge from the House-Senate Conference Committee exempts all new area navigation ("RNAV") and required navigation performance ("RNP") procedures, which collectively comprise the "Next Generation Air Transportation System" ("NextGen"), Act § 201, Definitions, from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. ("NEPA"). 

The Act, generally, mandates that all "navigation performance and area navigation procedures developed, certified, published or implemented under this section [Section 213] shall be presumed to be covered by a categorical exclusion (as defined in § 1508.4 of Title 40, C.F.R.) under Chapter 3 of FAA Order 1050.1E, unless the Administrator determines that extraordinary circumstances exist with respect to the procedure." Act, § 213(c)(1).   

The Act expands on this mandate in § (c)(2). "NEXTGEN PROCEDURES – Any navigation performance or other performance based navigation procedure developed, certified, published or implemented that, in the determination of the Administrator, would result in measurable reductions in fuel consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, and noise, on a per flight basis, as compared to aircraft operations that follow existing instrument flight rule procedures in the same airspace, shall be presumed to have no significant effect on the quality of the human environment and the Administrator shall issue and file a categorical exclusion for the new procedure."


Continue Reading FAA Reauthorization Act Exempts Next Generation Airspace Redesign Projects from Environmental Review

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.
 


Continue Reading FAA Moves to Insulate Itself from Challenges to Clean Air Act Compliance in Airspace Redesigns

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

Although originally billed as a Senate hearing on FAA Reauthorization, because another continuing resolution was passed last week, the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security switched the focus of the hearing from Reauthorization to NextGen and "the Benefits of Modernization." 

Essentially, this hearing was a scaled-down version of the hearing that the House held last week.  (See, "U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation Holds Hearing on FAA’s NextGen and ATC Modernization Efforts,"  posted March 22, 2009). Indeed, the written testimony of Dr. Dillingham is almost word for word identical to the written testimony presented to the House Subcommittee.  Likewise, the written testimony of Dale Wright, NATCA’s Director of Safety and Technology, was in most respects the same as Patrick Forrey’s last week.  As Sen. John D. Rockefeller, IV, Chairman of the full Committee stated in his opening statement, this hearing was a first step to "move the U.S. past Mongolia in the ranking of air traffic control systems."

It was also Sen. Rockefeller who summed up the problems the FAA has been having not only with respect to NextGen, but many other issues as well:  "[r]ivalries in the aviation community have hampered the industry’s ability to speak with one voice for far too long.  Without that one voice, you will fail."  The simmering labor disputes between the Air Traffic Controllers and the FAA; the mistrust between the Pilots and General Aviation; the airlines’ position with the FAA have all made it difficult for anything to be resolved, even if everyone agrees that some form of NextGen is an absolute necessity.

Thus, the hearing had Hank Krakowski, Chief Operating Officer of the Air Traffic Organization at the FAA, patting FAA on the back for getting ATC Modernization off of GAO’s "High Risk List," (see, "GAO Removes FAA Air Traffic Control Modernization Program From Its High Risk List," posted January 22, 2009) and generally touting how invested the FAA is in working with all stakeholders to achieve the goals.  In counterpoint, NATCA’s Wright, talked about the human cost of NextGen, and telling the Subcommittee that the "FAA  must collaborate meaningfully with stakeholders" pointing out that "to date [NATCA has] received no indication from the FAA that the Agency has any intention of meaningfully collaborating with NATCA."

Likewise, T.K. Kallenbach of Honeywell Aerospace lauded the environmental benefits of Continuous Descent, which is possible with the new NextGen technology.  Meanwhile United Airlines’ Joe Kolshak understandably lobbied hard for NextGen, since the airlines anticipate a huge drop in fuel costs, although the airlines might be looking for some assistance to get the required technology installed into the cockpits.  And finally, Dr. Dillingham once again told a Congressional panel that the "FAA faces challenges in resolving human capital," research and development, and facilities issues.

So, where does that leave us? Two "foundational" and "critical" hearings in which the same people are saying essentially the same thing that they (or their agencies/organizations) have been saying for at least the past two years.  With FAA Reauthorization stalled in the House (see "User Fees Issues Probably Will Force Short-Term Extension of FAA’s Authorization Instead of Full Reauthorization," posted March 16, 2009), and the Obama administrative set to present its proposal in Mid-April, it seems unlikely that anything will get rolling anytime soon.

A list of the witnesses and their written testimonies follows.


Continue Reading FAA Reauthorization, NextGen and ATC Modernization Are theTopics Discussed at U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Hearing