Newport Beach has reached a tentative settlement with the Federal Aviation Administration in the city’s lawsuit over John Wayne Airport departure paths, the city announced Tuesday night.
Under the agreement, flight paths would stay between the existing noise monitors on the ground and along Newport Bay, and the FAA would design and study a curved departure procedure intended to allow planes to follow the bends of Upper Newport Bay and avoid as many residential areas as possible.
The agreement is subject to final approval of the FAA and the U.S. Department of Justice.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said Wednesday that the agency expects to complete its review soon.
The new departure procedure is expected to be in place within a few weeks.
“The FAA really did work with us on this, and I think not only were our goals accomplished but we established a new positive relationship with the FAA that I hope will help us going forward,” City Manager Dave Kiff said.
Jennifer McDonald of the local residents organization AirFair, which focuses on airport impacts, said the higher, faster takeoff techniques to lessen jet noise above the Newport Beach neighborhoods closest to the airport — like the Bluffs, where McDonald lives — would be “more neighborly.”
“We think that’s really gonna make the difference in residents’ lives,” she said.
The lawsuit came about after the FAA changed departure paths from John Wayne.
In the new paths, implemented last spring, planes started turning left — and closer to homes — just as they lift off, rather than staying over the bay as they did before.
The FAA said the flight path alterations — part of the agency’s Southern California Metroplex project covering the region’s airports, including John Wayne — would shore up inefficiencies, save fuel and reduce carbon emissions and flight delays.
Newport Beach residents and leaders, however, saw the new paths as a threat to quality of life because of noise and pollution issues.
Newport, later joined by Orange County, sued the FAA in 2016, challenging the accuracy and efficacy of the agency’s environmental assessment of the Metroplex project, which concluded there would be no significant effects on surrounding communities.
Under the settlement agreement, the FAA agreed to ensure that all future changes to flight paths would be fully analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act. Also, additional protections were secured against excessive “early offshore turns” that, if allowed, would bring some departures closer to Corona del Mar and Newport Coast.
City Attorney Aaron Harp said in a statement that the settlement is an outcome “better than what could be expected had this matter gone through to trial,” because the trial would have focused solely on the adequacy of the environmental assessment.
Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield said the litigation was a bold step for the city and the county.
“Protecting our community against the negative impacts of the airport is the most important thing we do here in Newport Beach,” he said.
Orange County also announced the tentative settlement Tuesday.
“This is a satisfactory resolution to more than a year of conflict over altered flight paths in and out of John Wayne Airport,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “We demanded the FAA, the airlines and pilots adhere to our noise abatement guidelines as established in the JWA settlement agreement dating back to 1985, and we convinced them to comply.”
Over the past few months, Kiff said, the FAA already had modified its three departure patterns and they now appear to generally follow the same line.
Kiff said the city will continue to reach out to air carriers to try to alleviate noise by encouraging the use of newer, more technologically advanced planes and noise-mitigating takeoff techniques.
“If some of them have gone to a louder departure because they can, maybe get them back to a quieter departure because they should,” he said.