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33L LITIGATION AND OTHER nextgen/aviation cases 

There have been a number of lawsuits filed regarding issues with the FAA's implementation of NextGen procedures including several regarding runway 33L at Logan. Some have been regarding procedure changes at a specific airport and others dealt with multi-airport changes done under the FAA's Metroplex program.  Logan will likely be part of a future multi-city/airport "Eastern Seaboard" Metroplex that has not been scheduled. 

33L RNAV SID was/is a stand-alone procedure that was implemented in June 2013 after the publication of a DRAFT Environmental Assessment (EA) and subsequent Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). RNAV procedures had been implemented at Logan over multiple years - the last two were for R27 departures in March and for 33L departures in June both in 2013.   Though not officially part of the Boston Logan Noise Airport Study (BLANS), various options for 33L RNAV were considered going back to at least 2008 and the Logan CAC was involved in evaluating and approving various options (see Phase II documentationhere ).  Several BWFS communities like Belmont and Watertown were not members of the Logan CAC at that time - they both appointed Representatives in the fall of 2013. 

The Federal regulations for taking issue with a FONSI are quite explicit - there is a 60 day window to file an appeal.  Since 33L is not used as frequently in the summer - this issue did not really come to the attention of residents and Officials in Belmont and other newly impacted communities until the fall - well after the 60 day window had closed.  A group of residents from Milton, Hyde Park and Readville did file a petition for review of the 33L RNAV EA and FONSI (Court of Appeals Docket #: 13-1984, Fleitman v. FAA, Filed: 08/02/2013).  You can find a link to the docket for this case below. The petition's claims and written arguments were evaluated by the court and were denied. This 33L RNAV litigation was preceded by a lawsuit filed in 2008 over the increased use of 33L for departures after the opening of runway 14/32. This case was hung up over jurisdiction so there were never any rulings on the merits of the case. When it was agreed that it should be moved to US Court of Appeals First Circuit - it was dropped by the Plaintiffs.  

Though subsequent cases such as Phoenix, SoCal Metroplex and DCA have argued procedural errors - no such errors have been discovered or argued in the case of 33L RNAV.  In late 2017, the Board of Aldermen in Somerville requested that legal action be evaluated. The fact that we are four and half years past the date of implementation will make a lawsuit appealing the EA/FONSI very challenging. 

The BWFS (and Quiet Belmont previously) strategy has been focused on first fully understanding the impacts of 33L RNAV and then secondly being able to articulate/illustrate those to local and State Officials, our Congressional Delegation and ultimately to Massport and the FAA. After getting no satisfactory responses from the FAA during the post-implementation review period - we pursued getting data on the changes in flight paths by selecting days of busy use of 33L for departures in 2013 before-RNAV and in 2015 after-RNAV. Once we obtained the sample flight path data, Kent Johnson was able to map the data that clearly showed in black & white (or green and & red) how the flight paths had been shifted and concentrated. This image had now been widely used as the example of the issues with RNAV.  The CAC Reps, Officials and Legislators from Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge and Watertown, all communities impacted by 33L RNAV, collaborated in late 2015 to form the 33L Municipal Working Group (MWG). Medford and Somerville have subsequently joined the 33L MWG. The 33L-MWG was instrumental in requesting that the FAA re-evaluate 33L RNAV SID and that alternatives be explored. Presentations from the Working Group's activities and participation including a meeting facilitated by Congresswoman Clark with the FAA can be found on the Belmont CAC
website. The RNAV Study and MOU announced in October of 2016 between Massport and the FAA and using the Aviation Lab at MIT is actively evaluating 33L RNAV SID and exploring alternatives.

The cases being pursued across the country have some common elements but ultimately are unique to the airport, procedure and situation. The situation in Phoenix had some unique circumstances both before and after their RNAV procedures were implemented under a CATEX (Categorical Exclusion) that led to the Court finding that Phoenix's claims in their Petition were valid.  That finding led to a negotiated settlement that is now being pursued.

In Southern California a Metroplex plan was implemented in 2017 that impacts 21 airports and military bases.  There were multiple petitions filed including one by the City of Newport Beach, CA over flight path changes at John Wayne Airport (JWA). Eight different petitions including those from Culver City and Laguna Beach were consolidated into a single case (see lengthy docket files as of 1/11/18 below).  Some of the petitions like the one from the City of Newport Beach, were highly detailed - others less so. Some of the petitioners entered into mediation talks with the FAA and a "settlement" over the flight paths at JWA
was announced on January 10, 2018. In reading the Newport Beach complaint - their first claim was that the City's official comments on the DRAFT EA prepared by an environmental law firm were not included or considered. The FAA admitted to losing them. JWA has a simple single runway configuration with a predictable use pattern  and also operates under some unique rules dating back to a Settlement Agreement from the '80's with more recent updates.  California also has some unique noise regulations allowing the use of CNEL, an alternative noise metric .  The major error - or as the FAA called it,  an "administrative inadvertence" - may have influenced their willingness to agree to make modifications. The remaining petitioners are still expected to file a joint final argument by the end of February, so though Newport Beach appears to have settled, this case is far from over. There may be more settlements via mediation or the case will move ahead. This is something that certainly merits watching.

The law firm Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell that represented Phoenix and has now been retained by the State of Maryland (BWI) has good info
on Twitter feed and recently published their Airport Law Year in Review.  



Boston West Fair Skies

litigation files & legal dockets

Below are files relevant to the cases described on this page and downloaded from Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER): https://www.pacer.gov/

 33L 2008 Litigation​ Files    33L RNAV 2013 Milton Litigation Files    Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) Case Files     


Phoenix AZ Litigation Files 

SoCal Metroplex Consolidated Case Files - part 1      SoCal Metroplex Consolidated Case Files - part 2