Laguna Beach also sues FAA over plan to change flight routes

A plane takes off at John Wayne Airport in 2015. The city of Laguna Beach has sued the FAA over a plan to change flight routes.

A plane takes off at John Wayne Airport in 2015. The city of Laguna Beach has sued the FAA over a plan to change flight routes.

(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

In the same week Newport Beach sued the Federal Aviation Administration, the city of Laguna Beach filed its own lawsuit also challenging the agency’s plan to change jet arrival and departure patterns at several Southern California airports.

The decision came after a special closed session meeting Friday, when the City Council agreed to file its case in the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In their complaint, Laguna officials allege that FAA’s environmental assessment for its Metroplex project lacks enough explanation and quantifiable information to conclude that Metroplex will result in no significant environmental impacts.

The Metroplex project intends to replace traditional, ground-based air traffic procedures with a GPS-based system of air-traffic management, which will redesign the airspace and affect 21 airports, including John Wayne Airport.

The change would allow the FAA to guide and track air traffic more precisely and efficiently, while maintaining safety, according to an August agency report.

Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman said the FAA’s report is not specific enough. She added that some residents have discovered gray dust on their yard tables and chairs, which they believe came from fuel residue.

“There is a vagueness about changing flight patterns,” Iseman said. “The FAA’s concept of change does not match residents’ experience of flight noise.”

Some people might see aircraft where they did not previously fly, the FAA said in a Metroplex project description on its website. This is because some air route changes will occur under system, and because satellite-based procedures create more concentrated flight paths than conventional procedures, the website said.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor declined to comment on the pending litigation.

“We stand by our environmental assessment,” he added.

Earlier this year, South Laguna residents claimed to see jets flying lower over their houses, though the FAA maintained that its existing procedures had not changed.

Some residents are concerned that flight paths under Metroplex would be concentrated over certain areas.

In its report the FAA said its assessment complied with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines.

FAA officials also said that they considered potential impacts and concluded that Metroplex would not result in any significant noise impacts or reportable noise increases, though it would create a slight increase in fuel emissions that nonetheless don’t violate federal air-quality standards.

The FAA calculated noise at more than 330,000 locations throughout the study area, according to the agency’s website.

The city is seeking to have the FAA conduct a more thorough environmental review. Laguna officials are also requesting the court temporarily stop the FAA from moving forward with the project until the agency has taken all steps to comply with the NEPA.

Iseman said that a majority of Laguna Beach residents have not been impacted by flights, “but that doesn’t mean, as a community, we should not watch out for those who are in the flight path.”

Twitter: @AldertonBryce