Centennial Airport legal action against FAA over flight plans delayed

Court filing over Metroplex was 'premature'; airport will bring case again

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After a south Denver metro airport took legal action over how carefully the federal government is evaluating the potential impacts of a flight-path rerouting plan, the airport withdrew its case on a technicality but could file it again later this year.

“Centennial Airport voluntarily withdrew the petition for review with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals because we were advised the filing was premature,” said Deborah Grigsby Smith, Centennial Airport spokesperson.

In its June 19 legal filing, Centennial Airport looked to take the Federal Aviation Administration to court over the agency’s NextGen Denver Metroplex project, which aims to optimize arrival and departure at local airports. That includes Denver International Airport, Centennial Airport and some others. An FAA study, called a draft environmental assessment, looked at impacts the project could have on noise, air quality, wildlife, and historic and cultural resources.

The proposed change in flight paths is expected to have “no significant impacts” on those aspects of the Denver metro area, according to the April 22 study.

The airport contends that the analysis thus far has left crucial gaps on what effects the federal plan could have on noise over south metro cities such as Littleton, Centennial and others.

Based on the FAA’s study, the lack of potential effects means a more rigorous review, called an Environmental Impact Study, isn’t necessary before the plan is put into action, according to the FAA.

That’s one of the determinations and actions by the FAA at issue in Centennial Airport’s legal action, which was a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In the June filing, the Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority — the government body that oversees the airport — asked the court to review the FAA’s study, its determination that an EIS isn’t needed and its proposed changes in flight procedures.

Agency spokesperson Allen Kenitzer has said the FAA does not comment on ongoing litigation. The court formally dismissed the case Aug. 16, according to federal records.

The airport withdrew its legal action because it could only be filed when the FAA issues a finding of “no significant impact,” Grigsby Smith said, which doesn’t happen until its analysis is final.

“The FAA agreed to notify the airport when the environmental assessment is no longer a draft in exchange for our withdrawal,” Grigsby Smith said. “We will refile as soon as that happens, possibly as soon as September or October of this year.”

The airport’s filing also had requested a look at whether the FAA can carry out the Metroplex plan before completing studies required by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, a law passed by Congress.

The recent law requires the FAA to study the agency’s “community involvement” practices regarding NextGen Metroplex projects; the effect of aircraft noise on communities; the relationship between noise and health impacts such as sleep disturbance and elevated blood pressure, as well as the effect on businesses located under certain flight paths; and whether 65 decibels and up remains an acceptable FAA standard for significant noise exposure, according to a June 5 letter from the airport to the FAA.

The airport’s executive director, Robert Olislagers, has said that the results of those studies could significantly impact the Metroplex project, as well as the FAA’s conclusion that it would cause no significant impacts to the metro area.

The airport has also argued that the FAA didn’t consider the impact of the part of flight that occurs below 3,000 feet above ground, and that leaves unclear how much communities could be affected. Littleton, Centennial, Cherry Hills Village, Lone Tree, Castle Rock and other nearby cities could experience notable effects, Olislagers has said, although it is unclear how much.

The FAA contends that most proposed flight paths in the Denver area closely follow what are being flown today.

Legal action has been initiated against the FAA regarding Metroplex implementations in Phoenix, as well as in the Los Angeles area and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region, according to the airport’s letter.

There have not been any significant impacts found to be expected by any draft — or final — environmental assessment for the 11 active or completed Metroplex projects in the country, according to Kenitzer.

No Metroplex project so far has undergone the more rigorous EIS review. All projects have been reviewed as environmental assessments to this point, Kenitzer said.

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