LA councilman calls out FAA over noisy LAX flights

FILE: An airplane prepares to land at Los Angeles International Airport.
FILE: An airplane prepares to land at Los Angeles International Airport.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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The Federal Aviation Administration's answer to why residents of Westside communities are reporting more airplane noise from Los Angeles International Airport has prompted an angry letter from City Councilman Mike Bonin. 

Bonin asked the FAA to explain what had changed at the airport recently that might account for the increase in complaints. The response he got frustrated the councilman.

"To put it bluntly, the FAA's answer is pure B.S.," Bonin wrote this week to two members of Congress who represent the noise-affected areas, including Pacific Palisades, Mar Vista and Culver City.

"There's no way they are being honest with me or the people I represent," Bonin told U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu and Karen Bass. Lieu is part of the Quiet Skies Caucus of Congress and has co-sponsored bills to increase local authority over aviation noise.

FAA Regional Manager Gilbert Martin explained in a letter that the impacted areas have always been part of the approach paths that aircraft take to land or take off. He said while the altitudes and landing routes have not changed, the number of flights in and out of LAX has grown nearly 17 percent between 2009 and 2014.

But Bonin said the jet noise bumped up in August or September. In his letter to Lieu and Bass, the councilman said he has heard from "hundreds of constituents complaining about frequent, consistent noise from aircraft...".

Martin offered an alternate noise scenario: pilots who mistakenly aim for a runway that's been closed for construction make noise when they zoom by and make a second approach to the open runway. The FAA says that happens about a dozen times a month. LAX began closing runways for reconstruction work in March 2015.

Bonin questioned the idea that a few aircraft are triggering the new noise complaints.

FAA officials also briefed Bonin's office and staffers for Lieu and U.S. Sen. Barbra Boxer on Tuesday, showing slides said to show that the average landing altitudes and paths have remained fairly constant over the past three years.

Skepticism over the FAA's explanations regarding airport noise isn't new. Culver City last year hired an outside law firm and aviation experts to document what its residents say has been a change in flight patterns.

The increase in noise complaints comes as some in airport-adjacent communities grow concerned about the FAA's plan to redesign the airspace around LAX and other regional airports under a project known as Metroplex.

The FAA project is meant to streamline takeoff and landing patterns so that aircraft follow more precise flight paths in order to save fuel. However, the change that is set to narrow flight paths down from today's more spread-out airport approach routes would mean some areas would get more noise while other areas would get less.

Bonin said some residents speculate that the FAA is already experimenting with new flight paths.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency is still reviewing public comments submitted about the Metroplex redesign of air space and that no changes would occur at least until March, when the agency plans to issue its decision.

City Councilman Mike Bonin letter