Sat, Apr

The FAA and Los Angeles World Airports are Assaulting Us


VOICES-176,090%. That’s a significant number, a really big number.

It is not the percentage increase of a penny stock claiming a cure of Sars-CoV-2 virus but represents the increase in noise complaints at Van Nuys Airport from April 2017 to September 2019. Specifically, in April 2017, there was a total of 21 complaints about noise or low flying. Without notice, the FAA implemented new procedure for “improving” air traffic management called NextGen Metroplex. And surprise, surprise, in May 2019, there were 37,000 complaints. 

To date there have been over a million noise complaints due to the new routes at Burbank and Van Nuys airports. These complaints have not impressed the managers of the airports as they tee up ever more planes over the San Fernando Valley, at all hours of the day and night. 

NextGen Metroplex (NGM), like all big government campaigns, sounds like a fabulous idea. The FAA says it has been transforming the busiest air traffic hubs in the U.S. through the Metroplex program. Adjusting approach paths and adding new ways for aircraft to enter traffic patterns. They claim program benefits include improved fuel efficiency, decreased noise levels over communities, and increased navigation accuracy, allowing for safer and more efficient aircraft routing. And like most government actions, it benefits the Masters of the Universe, not we the people. It doesn’t even come close to the self-defined mission statement. 

The effects of NGM have been immediate and drastic, and the visible results show that tens of thousands of residents can see and hear the opposite of what was intended. Virtually every place NGM has been implemented, highly visible angry protests have broken out. 

Today, aircraft departing Van Nuys Airport (VNY) and Burbank (BUR) climb more slowly and are flying farther south than ever before. They are making wide sweeping turns from 5-15 miles from the airports that Air Traffic Controllers allow them to, heading north on to their traditional routes. This means that the jets are flying lower as the ground is rising to meet them over the Santa Monica Mountains and foothills. Because they are flying lower, the noise lingers longer over larger areas and distances, than ever before. 

In the Mountains and Canyons of Studio City, Sherman Oaks, and Encino, the aircraft noise creates echoes and reverberation effects that cause a more significant impact noise than in the flats. The big benefit for the airline industry is a fuel savings of $5 per trip. To save $5 a trip, the FAA, with the tacit consent of Los Angeles World Airports and Burbank–Glendale–Pasadena Airport Authority, are causing jets to fly lower into dangerous mountainous terrain. This is putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of an aviation crash and subsequent out-of-control fire emergencies in the Santa Monica Mountains. A public conservancy area, with over 20 protected public parks, overlooks, and open spaces. Because of the low altitude and simultaneous stacking of jets, helicopters, and prop planes by overworked air traffic controllers in the same space, tragedies are unfortunately inevitable. 

Many of us have had to deal with a construction site next door to us and having the racket go on for six days a week -- nonstop hammering, cement mixers, and the beeping of earthmovers next to us. One might say this is a serenity stopper, but the noise and dust are finite. Presumably, at the end of the construction madness, there is a nicer home giving a bump to the neighborhood comps. 

Under NextGen, instead of construction, your new neighbor is an airport, and they have put the runway right over your head. No notice, no permission, no environmental review. People who have saved and worked all their lives now find a diminishment of property values, a decline in health due to sleep deprivation, and pollution and particulate matter from jet exhaust raining down on their home. 

These effects have been so egregious that two Senators and four Congressmembers have sent letters to the FAA demanding changes. A recent Task Force comprised of LA City Councilmembers and the Mayors of Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena, recently sent recommendations for changes to the FAA. 

Airport advocacy groups are continuing to push for, as a temporary solution, a return to the historic flight paths where there were few complaints, then have the FAA study and find fairer, safer flight dispersal routes. This plea for a return to historical patterns and the plea for fair noise sharing has upset some residents of Valley Village, which is only a few miles southwest of Burbank Airport. 

Historically, they have been under the flight paths of BUR. Residents knowingly purchased their homes under that flight path but are now claiming they would be adversely impacted if it returns to them. The San Fernando Valley is the only area to be assaulted by two airports within 16 nautical miles of each other. Consider this: the FAA and Air Traffic Controllers are ordering planes from VNY to fly east over the Santa Monica Mountains and simultaneously ordering planes from BUR to fly west into the Santa Monica Mountains. 

What could go wrong, especially if we throw in a few helicopters? 

It is especially disappointing to see our own local agency – Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) -- which runs VNY and is controlled by the Mayor and City Council, resisting attempts to implement a voluntary curfew on late night and early morning flights, at least until the Task Force recommendations can be determined by the FAA, which will take months. Meanwhile, residents under the paths in the high elevations have been sleep-deprived since 2018. 

The Council recently renewed a private contract to keep a Customs Office at VNY that would be better suited in a large airport that can ensure necessary security measures for incoming international passengers and cargo. 

LAWA and the LA City Council seem more intent on counting fees from the endless parade of corporate jets that take off and land at VNY than being concerned with the citizens under the planes. Unfortunately, the only mistake being made by their constituents is electing the same old political types who are more influenced by money and continue to ignore evidence-based governance, true cost economics (sustainability), and whole-system thinking. All for one more noisy, polluting jet that spews six to eight times more greenhouse gases than a commercial jet flying the same route.


(Eliot Cohen is President of Homeowners of Encino and is Managing Partner of a Private Equity Firm.) Photo montage: Quiet the Valley. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.



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