Culver City and Newport Beach plan to go to court to block the Federal Aviation Administration's effort to remap the routes jets use to get in and out of LAX and 20 other Southern California airports.
The two municipalities' city councils voted this week to sue the FAA in federal court. The complaints will challenge the adequacy and accuracy of the federal agency's environmental assessment of the new flight paths' impacts.
The FAA has been working for several years to remap the airspace around the 21 airports from San Diego to Santa Barbara collectively known as the Southern California Metroplex. The project is part of a nationwide effort known as NextGen to improve operations throughout U.S. airspace.
Much of the local opposition stems from the FAA's plan to switch from radar to satellite navigation to guide takeoffs and landings.
Planes using satellite guidance can follow more precise routes, which concentrates air traffic along much narrower paths. Airlines support the project because it's expected to make flights more fuel efficient and enable airports to potentially accommodate more flights per day.
Officials in Culver City, Newport Beach, Monterey Park, Santa Monica and other cities have expressed concern that concentrating the flights into narrower channels could focus more aircraft noise over their communities.
The FAA gave final approval last month to an environmental assessment of the new flight paths, concluding that they would have no significant impact on residents. It can start using new routes in some areas as early as next month.
The Culver City council voted Monday to oppose the FAA plan on the grounds that the environmental assessment appeared to have been lifted from one prepared for East Coast cities, without taking Southern California's specific air pollution and noise issues into account, Mayor Jim Clarke said.
"They used a model that is used apparently back on the East Coast and we have a different standard here in California that they are required to follow," he said. "It almost appeared as if they cut and pasted the information from a report from a Metroplex on the East Coast and just put it into our report."
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said Clarke is mistaken. "The environmental analysis we did for the Southern California Metroplex project is specific to the Southern California area," said Gregor.
Newport Beach will sue the FAA over the potential for increased noise and greenhouse gas pollution, said City Manager Dave Kiff.
"We believe the environmental assessment could open the door later on towards a flight pattern that could move a significant number of planes over our residential areas," Kiff said.
The Newport Beach city council voted unanimously in closed session Tuesday to sue, he said.
The FAA hopes to start using the new flight paths over Culver City next March, but Clarke said it appears some jets are already using the new routes. He said the city had obtained data from LAX that showed lower altitude flights following different routes had increased in number over the past few years.
Gregor said the FAA has not implemented the new routes, and that the increase in lower altitude passes over Culver City involves a very small number of flights.
Cities closest to LAX, such as Inglewood, have voiced less concern over the proposed route changes because they don't face an increase in noise. They are already inundated with aircraft noise and many homes have been soundproofed over the years.
Under the terms of the environmental assessment review process, Culver City and Newport Beach must file their legal challenges by Friday.