News Article - April 10, 2009

By Martin B. Cassidy

  Attorneys for Connecticut and towns in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware want more time to make their case to block the Federal Aviation Administration's flight path changes. The motion, filed Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, asks the court to grant the attorneys more time in court to present their arguments May 11.

   Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he and several other attorneys will make the oral arguments and need more time to discuss noise and air quality problems the flight plans cause from Delaware to Fairfield County. It is likely each side will get an hour to make arguments, but motions are required to extend arguments longer than 20 or 30 minutes, Blumenthal said.

   "Given the numerous plaintiffs and complex, difficult and significant issues, the additional time is really to the court's benefit because it permits the active give-and-take that needs to occur to articulate the arguments," Blumenthal said. Arlene Sakac, a spokeswoman for the FAA, declined to comment. John Charles Cruden and Ellen Durkee, attorneys representing the FAA, could not be reached.

   A 13-town coalition including Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich and New Canaan, sued the FAA in November 2007 in the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York to overturn the proposed flight path changes. It has been consolidated into a single case with similar suits filed by out-of-state entities, including Elizabeth; N.J.; Rockland County, N.Y.; and Delaware County, Pa. In the suit, towns contend that FAA officials improperly failed to take into account environmental and noise concerns during public hearings in 2006.

   "The FAA process is deeply flawed in providing a full opportunity to present our side and legally deficient in failing to take into account the extraordinary negative impact environmentally on our air quality, noise levels and quality of life," Blumenthal said. FAA officials expect the new routes to cut 200,000 hours of delays a year at New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia airports by 2011. FAA officials have said the noise increases and other effects are modest and require no mitigation.

   One change would reroute planes headed toward LaGuardia Airport east over Fairfield County instead of Westchester County, N.Y. Another change would turn back flights leaving Westchester County Airport headed north to fly over Connecticut rather than the Hudson River. Steve Taber, an attorney representing Delaware County, said the FAA did not do enough analysis to comply with the federal Clean Air Act, which requires that the agency assess the increase in noise and air pollution for suburbs of Philadelphia. Under the plan, more planes departing Philadelphia International Airport would fly over towns instead of the Delaware River. Residents of New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y., have the same complaint, Taber said.

   "There is noise and pollution where there wasn't before," said Taber, an attorney for Chevalier, Allen & Lichman, a law firm in Costa Mesa, Calif., that specializes in aviation and airport development law. Rodger Gibson, who lives off High Ridge Road in North Stamford, said he expects the proposed changes to bring a large number of aircraft over his home at lower altitudes. Air traffic already is noticeable, he said. He said he hopes local, state and federal legislators will pressure the FAA to abandon the plan. "The FAA map shows this will be a very heavily travelled area in all directions," Gibson said.

Source - The Advocate