Aviation Safety must be the #1 criterion in deciding on Airport Noise Restrictions

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The FAA’s primary jurisdiction is assuring safety in the National Aviation System. Congress also provided it with the power to decide whether certain airport restrictions are lawful. A recent decision involving LAX has drawn criticism, but the analysis fails to fully weigh the safety concerns expressed in the denial.

Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, as amended, 49 U.S.C. § 47521, et seq., (“ANCA”) was crafted to balance local and national interests as it applied to noise experienced by the airport’s neighbors. The statute establishes safety as an ultimate consideration. As promulgated in 14 CFR Part 161, a heavy burden is placed by 49 USC §§ 47524 (c) (2) (A)-(F) on the proponents of a restriction on flights to/from that airfield.

Renowned airport lawyer Dr. Barbara Lichman published the below piece attacking the FAA’s application of the statute and regulations to a specific case. It was a denial by the FAA to a proposal by the Los Angeles World Airports to curfew the use of arrivals from and departures to the East. Dr. Lichman finds fault with all of the analyses of the six statutory standards. All but one of the criteria involves considerable economic/policy/noise concerns and the debate on such issues can be endless.

Dr. Lichman attacks the safety findings due to the agency’s deference to pilots’ discretion to choose either of the East procedures. The FAA cites 14 CFR§91.3 which is written in terms far stronger than “discretion” and has words denoting rights of the pilots:

The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

Further, her analysis fails to mention that the authority of the controllers (ATCT, TRACON and ARTCC) does not include “enforcing” the LAWA restriction.

The most telling omission is her failure to mention the “contra flow” safety issues created by the LAWA proposal. The termination of all flights with an eastern arrival or departure means that all flights must be operated over the water. Controllers would have to segregate aircraft taking off into the black Oceanic airspace from airplanes which are landing through the same area. While sometimes such configurations are required in compelling conditions, this is not the best way to efficiently and safely manage the air traffic.

Safety must be the FAA’s primary, even more appropriately overriding, consideration in its ANCA and Part 161.

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