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City, FAA Reach Tentative Agreement Further Restricting John Wayne Airport Flight Departure Paths

Post Date:01/09/2018 7:30 p.m.

Newport Beach Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill, and their Newport Beach City Council colleagues, have announced that the City of Newport Beach (City) reached a tentative agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding flight paths from Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA). The agreement remains subject to the approval of the FAA and the U.S. Department of Justice.

At the City Council’s direction, the City sued the FAA in October 2016 regarding the FAA’s environmental document associated with the FAA’s nationwide “NextGen” program’s implementation in Southern California. The recent legal settlement also involves the County of Orange, the operator of SNA, which intervened in the action after the City filed its lawsuit.

The City filed the lawsuit after it did not see adequate protections for the Newport Beach community’s quality of life. The City argued that the FAA could use the document to significantly change the historical flight paths down the middle of the Upper Newport Bay. Flight paths for planes departing from SNA could have been routed across a majority of the city, from the tip of Newport Coast to the Santa Ana River, under the environmental documents prepared for NextGen.

The City Council understood that any litigation against the FAA would be an uphill battle and was by no means a guaranteed success; however, the City Council was and is committed to protecting the interests of Newport Beach residents and determined that this was a necessary challenge. As a direct result of the City’s litigation, the FAA agreed that the NextGen flight paths will stay between the existing SNA noise monitors and it will design and study one of the nation’s first precision-based curved departure procedures for SNA. This procedure, planned for implementation in the coming weeks, would in theory allow planes to follow the curves of the Upper Newport Bay, therefore avoiding as many residential areas as possible.

Further, the FAA agreed to ensure all future changes to flight paths will be fully analyzed anew under the National Environmental Policy Act. Finally, additional protections were secured against excessive “early offshore turns” that, if allowed, would bring certain departures closer to Corona del Mar and Newport Coast.

According to City Attorney Aaron Harp, this settlement agreement represents an outcome “better than what could be expected had this matter gone through to trial,” as the trial would solely have focused on the adequacy of the environmental document.

Mayor Duffield said, “The litigation was a bold step for the City Council in 2016 - as well as for former Chair Michelle Steel and the Orange County Board of Supervisors - and it is coming to a successful legal conclusion. Protecting our community against the negative impacts of the airport is the most important thing we do here in Newport Beach.”

Mayor Pro Tem O’Neill said, “As a City Council, this is a good outcome, but we’re not done. We will remain vigilant in protecting the landmark 1985 Settlement Agreement – within which the JWA curfew, the noise limits, and the passenger caps are contained – so that John Wayne Airport is operated with the least impact to our residents well into the future.”

City Manager Dave Kiff said, “We have appreciated how the FAA’s design staff in Renton, Washington has worked with us through these challenging talks. This demonstrates the FAA’s commitment to continuing to work with our community and the airport on a going-forward basis, and I admire that. This gives me optimism for the future that our other concerns can be thoughtfully addressed, too.”

To that end, in September 2017, the City Council directed City staff to proceed with the following steps outside of this litigation to further the City’s goals:

  1. To conduct additional noise monitoring to determine if the seven (7) existing noise monitoring stations on the departure corridors are reporting noise accurately;
  2. To encourage commercial air carriers to depart along the FAA’s geographic routes in a manner that uses the quietest departure procedure possible while still ensuring safety.
    To this end, the City intends to work with the County of Orange, the FAA, air carriers and noise and aircraft experts to potentially design a new noise abatement departure procedure for SNA that reflects updated plane technologies.
  3. To encourage commercial air carriers to rapidly incorporate quieter and less polluting planes into their fleets, such as the Airbus 320neo and the Boeing 737-MAX; and
  4. To bring on advocacy in Washington DC to similarly work with carriers and carrier groups to inform them of the Newport Beach community’s interests.

For any questions about the litigation or the City’s approach to John Wayne Airport, please contact City Manager Dave Kiff at 949-644-3001 or dkiff@newportbeachca.gov, or City Attorney Aaron Harp at 949-644-3131 or aharp@newportbeachca.gov.


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