Airline Noise Crisis Under Airplane Highway

Aug17nofly2As we reported in our last issue, communities from the ocean to downtown and back have been at the mercy of a thin aerial highway of packed air flights soaring over them throughout the day and late into the night, with rare respite.  And it’s getting worse.

It’s Sunday morning and as I write up this report the planes roaring overhead follow each other with less than a minute apart.  

I tracked the following times planes flew over West Adams by Adams and Arlington on July 27 in the half hour between 9:30 and 10 pm: 
3 planes went overhead all within one minute at 9:28. Another one at 9:30. 9:31, 9:34, 9:39, 9:42, 9:43, 9:45, 9:49, 9:51, 9:54, 9:59, 10:01, 10:03
with continuing flights until midnight when it slowed down. 

July 31, another resident tracked: 11:35 pm, 11:36 pm, 11:40 pm, 11:41 pm, 11:43pm, 11:49pm, 11:50 pm, 11:52 pm (VERY LOW and LOUD).

On August 4th this reporter tracked 16 flights at night between 10 and 11. 

This has become a nightly nightmare. Flights are continuous, often only 5 minutes apart during the day with occasional windows of relief.  Students in the USC community have begun to show concern. They are directly under the path as well and unlike people who work during the day and are only aware of the commotion at night, the students go to school, study and sleep under the noise.

Would people who have paid a million dollars and up for renovated homes in this desirable area have had second thoughts if they knew they were going to live under a flight path of this magnitude?  Some are talking about leaving…but will their house values go down?

Planes arriving from the west have to fly over the city, spin around downtown and return over South LA to land at the airport. South LA gets a double hit with multiple planes all the time, as arrivals  from the east come in for landings as well.

The Federal Aviation Administration  (FAA) program called NextGen, the nickname for the Next Generation air traffic control system, has swept into 14 major metropolitan areas across America.  This air route redesign is done on a regional basis in what the FAA calls a “Metroplex”.  The Southern California Metroplex covers an area from Ventura County to the Mexican border and from the Pacific Ocean to the California border with Arizona and Nevada. NextGen is a satellite-based aircraft navigation system to replace our WWII-era ground radar based air traffic control system.  It replaced control of flights arriving along dispersed paths, from humans communicating with air pilots to digital computer control doing the brunt of the work. But digital control means  eliminating dispersed paths and replacing it with a straight line of planes separated by about 1,000 ft, creating a superhighway of relentless planes arriving from the east and north. They fly over Los Angeles towards downtown L.A. where they turn and join the incoming flights from the east headed to the landing runwaysNextGen also lowers altitudes so when the flights, coming over Malibu and across the bay, turn at Santa Monica, they are typically at around a 7,000 ft. altitude. As they follow the path along the Santa Monica freeway, they quickly descend and within minutes they are at 3,000 ft by the time they hit downtown.   Communities are not only subject to the noise of low flying planes but are also suffering under the whine of jet engine breaks.

The FAA claims NextGen is necessary to handle the increased flights, is safer than human control - but more importantly it saves the airlines in gas and increases their profits. 

We all know how sympathetic computers systems and Federal governments are to humans who get in their way.  Zero. Zilch. Nada. And so the FAA is faced with lawsuits around the country from inundated communities (including mountain communities hundreds of miles from the airport) who have been living with quiet clear skies and are now reacting with fury to the sound of relentless engines from a super airline highway above them. 

The main accusations in the lawsuits have focused on the questionable “environmental impact” studies the FAA used to legally justify what they were about to do to communities. 

In southern California lawsuits have been launched in:

Newport Beach“The Newport Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to sue the FAA over its environmental assessment of the project, which determined that the agency's plan would not have any significant impacts on surrounding communities.  Newport Beach contends in the lawsuit that the analysis of the noise, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and cumulative impacts of the project on local residents is insufficient..”  LA Times Oct. 28 2017

Laguna Beach - “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.” “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.” LA Times Nov. 1 2016

Orange County “Orange County has filed a petition in federal court to join Newport Beach in suing the Federal Aviation Administration, with both trying to block revised air traffic plans for planes coming in and out of John Wayne Airport.” “On Nov. 8, in closed session with the Board of Supervisors, a consultant hired by John Wayne Airport to review the FAA’s environmental report said he believed it was inadequate, Spitzer said. The consultant told the board that “it was not possible to tell from the review what the noise impacts would be,” the supervisor added.” LA Times Nov. 24 2017

Culver City  “The city believes there are significant errors in the Southern California Metroplex environmental analysis,” Culver City Mayor Jim Clarke said. “Our hope is the FAA will work with us and other communities to mitigate the serious impact on our residents’ quality of life from these flight path changes.” “More recently, about 300 residents signed a petition requesting that the City Council take action against the FAA to protect them from further impacts that could be caused by Metroplex procedures that will bring aircraft more directly over the city.”  “These new FAA changes are going to create a concentrated freeway directly over Culver City and communities to our east and allow more planes to fly even more often and closer together at the expense of the citizens below.” LA Times Oct. 27 2017 (update. Failed)

And the West Adams for Clear Skies community raised funds and engaged a lawyer who filed an amicus brief to attach to the Culver City lawsuit, focusing on a Social Injustice violation.  That return path to the airport landing with multiple airplanes packing the sky all day….goes directly over low income minority communities. (Update. Failed)

Of course the FAA pushed back against the lawsuits:  

“Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA in Los Angeles, said, “the agency worked hard in the past to balance the need to modernize air traffic control procedures with the concerns of local communities. He also said Metroplex will lay the foundation for future air safety and the efficient use of the region’s airspace and airports.” 

“The FAA made changes, including raising the altitude for planes flying over Culver City, based on public comment, according to earlier statements by the agency. Municipal officials dispute this, saying there is potential for aircraft to fly below the required 6,000 feet.”  LA Times Oct 27 2017

Most citizen reports have them flying as low as 2,000 feet. FAA allows them to go as low as 1,000.

But most importantly all eyes are on the lawsuit the city of Phoenix filed in June 2015 with several historic neighborhood associations and individual residents filing petitions that were consolidated with the city’s lawsuit. 
The case was heard in March of 2017 by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  Tough questions were asked.

“Lane McFadden, a Department of Justice attorney representing the federal agency, argued that the FAA had consulted with a representative from the city’s aviation department, who the agency believed was qualified and would have passed along the information to someone higher up.

 ‘You notified somebody who had no authority,’ Judge Judith Rogers said. ‘The rest of the city is totally oblivious to this plan and the first notion they have is when they hear the planes come.’

‘It’s sort of a stealth operation,” Rogers said about the way the FAA had handled the process.’ 

 The justices took the case under advisory. No details about the timeline for a decision were immediately available.”  The Republic March 2017

A decision is still pending and will either have a very enthusiastic supportive influence on the other pending lawsuits or a chilling effect.  (Update. Succeeded)

So…why isn’t Los Angeles suing the FAA which uses faulty environmental impact criteria and noise level requirements?  Most likely….money, lots of it.

The City of Los Angeles owns LAX and operates through its city department, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). The more airlines that use LAX the more money the city makes through sales taxes and hotel bed use taxes.  Federal law restricts airport revenue to be used only for airport purposes.  So when you have this many airlines coming in and out…they have to fly over something.  Us.

Denny Schneider, chairman of the LAX Noise roundtable shared some unsettling facts that have contributed to this community nightmare.  LAX is only 3,500 acres making it the smallest airports servicing one of the largest cities in the world.  It is also the 2nd busiest passenger airport in the US and 4th busiest passenger airport in the world.  

In the 70’s, the LAX Master Plan included a commitment.  If  LAX went above 40,000,000 million annual passengers (MAP), then passenger and cargo traffic would be spread out, developing and using the local regional airports like Ontario International Airport, which LAWA agreed to operate in 1967.  The City of LA also had purchased 17,750 acres in Palmdale adjacent to the existing Air Force Plant 42. The plan for a Palmdale Intercontinental Airport was to have capacity for 100 million annual passengers by the 1980’s.  In the interim, the Air Force allowed LAWA to build a small terminal and use Plant 42’s two 12,000 foot runways.  Lots of room to absorb LAX overflow.

But by 2011, the City of Ontario was fighting to get back their airport claiming LAWA was not fulfilling its promise under the Joint Powers Agreement to expand and improve the airport to handle the quickly expanding needs.  1.6 million cars come through Los Angeles from Ontario to LAX.  It took until 2015 for Ontario to get their airport back.  

In 2008 after years of failed effort, LAWA also backed out of the Palmdale expansion.  LAWA turned in the airport operating permit to FAA, thereby slowing the efforts of the City of Palmdale to take back control of the lease with the Air Force for use of the terminal and runways.  LAWA continues to own the 17,750 acres of land it acquired in Palmdale and leases it out for a golf course, NASA aircraft hangars, a Metro streetcar factory, alfalfa and pistachio farms and the dumping of treated sewage. 

 "There is no viability in service at Palmdale," said Mike Molina, senior director of government affairs for LAWA, which operates Los Angeles International, Ontario, Palmdale and Van Nuys airports.

"If viability is shown at Palmdale, we would welcome air service back there," he said. "But the last 18 months has shown us that air service at Palmdale is not viable at this time."

 [10 years ago a Bond State measure passed to get 1 -2 billion dollars for a high speed rail to Palmdale but estimations were low, costs have gone up and communities were fighting its path]

"County officials [in Palmdale] are now pondering whether to file a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and LAWA for allegedly violating the terms of a settlement reached three years ago over a failed $11 billion airport expansion plan."

Part of the deal required Los Angeles to financially support efforts to reduce air traffic at LAX, while also bulking up operations at its sister airports in Ontario and Palmdale."

 "LAWA made it very clear that Palmdale airport was not a priority for them," said Norm Hickling, a deputy for Antonovich, who represents the Antelope Valley."

 "We were always told that the regionalism approach included Palmdale, and now they are taking it off the table," Hickling said. "We thought Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made it clear that Palmdale was part of the regional focus, and yet this is a dramatic change in scope."

 Villaraigosa had promised to make regionalism one of his priorities during his run for mayor in 2005, winning him the support of those living in the voter-rich communities of Westchester and Playa del Rey."

 "However, the Mayor's Office said Thursday that the national recession has hurt the airline industry, making it more difficult to attract flights to tiny airports like Palmdale.”    Daily Breeze News 10/30/08

LAX now has 80,000,000 passengers a year, 40,000,000 more than the limit they set for themselves before they were going to regionalize and share the load with surrounding airports.  And all of those flights coming in from the west are now consolidated into the super highway above us.  A constant stream of engines heard in the distance, getting louder as they get near, roaring over our heads and fading as they fly east and a minute or two or three later, it starts again.

So what can we do? What is the solution other than to get used to wearing headphones with white noise or gregorian chants? 

Persistant Baby steps.  First– Organize/Raise awareness.  2nd Raise money.  Lawsuits cost money, but are necessary to push decision makers to the negotiating table.  

The Neighborhood News organized a community meeting mid June. Thirty people showed up and the meeting resulted in the creation of 4 committees. Lawsuit, Media outreach, Website, Community Outreach. There were three speakers,  Jim Mangia, who runs a series of Health Clinics in South L.A., headed the committee to file a lawsuit. He had contact with a lawyer willing to take on the issue for a reduced rate and who has already filed an amicus brief to join the West Adams lawsuit with the Culver City effort. A decision by Culver City Council to accept the brief is forthcoming.  Because the Metroplex/NextGen path flies over South LA, home to low income minority residents, the lawsuit can focus on social justice issues unlike most of the lawsuits that focus on environmental impact. He’s also instructed his doctors to start tracking any uptick in respiratory illness.  

Another speaker was Jeff Camp a local resident who was the canary in the coalmine becoming one of the first people to research and alert the community to the issues. He was subsequently hired by Councilman Wesson (who also lives under the flight path) and gave a report on the Councilman’s efforts, which included requesting altitude data from LAWA, (which they’ve received) and asking for greater LAX roundtable meetings to handle the current crisis. 

Another speaker, Barbara Markoe from Culver City, shared some history of the Culver City efforts and updates on the lawsuit.  

If you are affected by this crisis and don’t want to fall into apathetic depressed acceptance,  Join the Resistance. Pick an action or two or three. Every action counts especially multiplied by 1,000:

1.  DONATE to our effort to raise funds for the Lawyer. This is the most important thing you can do. This won't happen without lawsuits and time and that takes money.  If everyone affected by this donated only $10 we would meet serious goals.  Go to

2.- Go to  “ ask la to join the lawsuits” and add your name to the petition to get Los Angeles to file a lawsuit. Other cities have done it. Why not one of the largest?

3. Come to the 2nd West Adams for Quiet Skies community meeting.  ALL are invited even if you don’t live in West Adams. Monday Aug. 28 from 6:30 to 9 pm. El Purgacito Bar and Grill,  4000 W. Washington Blvd 90018 (just east of Crenshaw, entrance on side). There will be two speakers, Mitch Tsai the lawyer who filed the amicus brief and Robert Ackerman Vice president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution for Airport Congestion (ARSAC) the group that successfully fought LAWA and got the city to implement changes to save their communities from expansion. 

4. Join the West Adams for Quiet Skies Facebook page to stay connected to informed and active residents 

5 - Join LA For Quiet Skies email outreach to stay informed about upcoming protests, meetings, petitions and information.  To get on that email outreach tree, Email:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and put Quiet Skies in the subject line. 

6. IMPORTANT Call and complain!  If they know enough of us are upset they will act. Call at least one. best to call ALL!

Senator Feinstein: 202-224-3841 

* Senator Kamala Harris: 202-224-3553 or 559-497-5109

* Rep. Herb Wesson: 213-473-7010 or 323-733-5833

* Dennis Roberst regional Federal Aviation officr - 310-725-3550 (call this one as often as possible) 

* LAX noise complaint line (424) 646-6473.

7. Lodge a complaint with LAX       You an also download a noise complaint app and send a complaint as often as you like. You can also file complaints.  In July of 2015 105 people registered 1,525 complaints. In June of 2017, 330 people registered 5,683 complaints. REGISTER YOURS!

8. Watch out for our website where all of this information will soon be in one place -


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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