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Newport Beach sues FAA over proposed flight routes

Newport Beach filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging the accuracy and efficacy of the Federal Aviation Administration's environmental assessment of a proposal to reroute flights at John Wayne and 20 other Southern California airports.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals complaint centers on the FAA's Metroplex project, which intends to replace traditional ground-based air traffic procedures with a GPS-based system of air traffic management, redesign the airspace and alter the arrival and departure procedures for jets at several Southern California airports.

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The Newport Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to sue the FAA over its environmental assessment of the project, which determined that the agency's plan would not have any significant impacts on surrounding communities.

The city is asking the court to overturn the federal agency's project approvals and require it to complete a more-thorough environmental analysis, which it says is mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act.

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Newport Beach contends in the lawsuit that the analysis of the noise, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and cumulative impacts of the project on local residents is insufficient. The city also alleges there are significant cyber-security risks related to the project that were not addressed in environmental documents.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, adding that the FAA stands by its environmental analysis.

The agency has said the Metroplex procedures could save fuel, reduce emissions and delays and shorten flight times by establishing less-dispersed flight plans.

FAA officials have said they plan to phase in the new procedures from November through April. While the agency has indicated to city officials that they don't intend to change the flight paths immediately above Newport Beach, city officials want to ensure that if changes are made in the future a thorough analysis is completed.

"We'd like the FAA to give us more information about the possible impacts of these changes," said Mayor Diane Dixon. "Our goal has always been to do all we can to protect our residential neighborhoods from noise and air quality impacts associated with John Wayne Airport."

The FAA's plans have ignited conversation in the past year among the Newport Beach Aviation Committee and community concerned that airplane noise over their homes, which has been an issue for decades in Newport Heights, Balboa Island and Peninsula Point, could worsen.

Most of the planes departing John Wayne Airport follow a route that takes them across Upper Newport Bay before flying over Balboa Island and the end of the Balboa Peninsula and turning around a few miles over the ocean.

Under the current system, the pilot has more control of the takeoff route. Under the new system, a precise takeoff path can be programmed into the plane's flight plan, which could further concentrate flights over residential areas. Newport alleges in the lawsuit that the plan could increase pollution and noise over homes.

The city also took issue in the lawsuit with the FAA's failure to respond to a letter the municipality sent outlining its concerns during the environmental analysis.

"[The city] commented that the environmental analysis does not clearly explain or show in diagrams what the FAA specifically proposes for SNA, making it difficult, if not impossible, to understand the ways in which the project would affect [the city's] residents and the environment generally," the lawsuit states.

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

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