On March 27, a federal appeals court threw out the petition by the Citizens Association of Georgetown — representing the DC Fair Skies Coalition, which comprises a number of D.C.-area organizations — to halt and redesign flight paths causing increased noise. The annoyance to area residents began in 2015, when the new flight paths were implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The court determined that the residents’ argument ran into “procedural and substantive obstacles,” namely, it was not filed in a timely manner. “Federal law requires that petitions seeking review of FAA actions be filed within 60 days of the agency’s final order,” the court said. “Because petitioners failed to challenge it within the 60 day statutory time limit and had no ‘reasonable grounds’ for the delay, we dismiss the petition as untimely.” The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit noted that the FAA’s “final order” came in late 2013.
The petition did not qualify as one of those “rare cases” in which there are reasonable grounds to excuse the failure to timely file a petition for review, according to the court decision. One of those cases was a successful suit in January to revert flight paths over Phoenix, Arizona, back to the previous, less noisy ones.
In effect, the FAA made the 60-day period for complaints much earlier than even the implementation dates in 2015, lawyer and Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Rick Murphy told The Georgetowner.
“Unfortunately, the court did not reach the merits of the case. The FAA made diligent efforts to ensure no one in D.C. was aware of the new flight path we challenged until it was an accomplished fact,” said Richard Hinds, general counsel for CAG. “We need to consider what if any steps we need to consider taking at this point, but pursuing our administrative petition with the FAA is one possible alternative to further litigation.”
District Council member Jack Evans, who represents residents in Georgetown and other affected neighborhoods, called the decision “terribly disappointing.”
The FAA’s NextGen system uses satellites instead of old-fashioned radar to guide airplanes. These more direct flight paths allow for more planes in the air, safely spaced closer together and burning less fuel. The unintended consequence in many areas: more noise for residents.