Councilman accuses FAA of hiding the truth about changes in LAX air traffic

By Gary Walker

A jet flies low over Dockweiler Beach Photo by Ted Soqui

A jet flies low over Dockweiler Beach
Photo by Ted Soqui

Citing “sudden and dramatic changes” in the frequency and footprint of airport flyover noise related to LAX, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin is accusing federal aviation officials of being dishonest about flight patterns and calling on members of Congress for help.

“Since late summer, I have heard from hundreds of constituents complaining about frequent, consistent noise from aircraft; these complaints come from neighborhoods that have never mentioned this issue previously,” Bonin wrote in a Jan. 11 letter to local Reps. Ted Lieu and Karen Bass.

Bonin writes that the communities newly impacted by frequent and consistent airplane noise, beyond the typical hotspots of Westchester and Playa del Rey, Mar Vista (where Bonin lives) as well as Culver City and even Pacific Palisades.

Late last year, Bonin wrote the FAA to inquire whether flight patterns had changed, and FAA regional administrator Glen Martin answered that the airplane arrival pattern for LAX had remained the same for years.

“The only change we were able to identify is in the number of [aircraft] operations at LAX, which have increased almost 17% between 2009 and 2014,” wrote Martin, who also acknowledged an increased in missed runway approaches between July and September of last year due to runway construction projects.

Bonin isn’t buying it.

“To put it bluntly, the FAA’s answer is pure BS. There is no way they are being honest with me or with the people that I represent. As you know, I live in Mar Vista and I can assure you that the increase in flights and noise was not gradual; it happened suddenly and is quite pronounced,” he wrote.

“Either the FAA is not telling us something or thousands of people are suffering from mass delusion. Given my experience with the FAA over the past two decades, I am confident that it is the former.”

Residents of the Westchester and Playa del Rey bluffs complained last summer about increased noise levels when the airport had closed  runways for maintenance. LAX officials said at the time that there had been a surge in flyovers during construction but described the increase as temporary.

LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles confirmed an overall increase in traffic over several years due to major carriers serving new domestic and international destinations.

FAA officials met with representatives of Lieu, Bass and Bonin on Jan. 12 and presented data that altitudes of arriving and departing flights have remained nearly the identical since 2013.

The next day, a handful of community activists met with FAA and LAX representatives for a roundtable discussion at the airport.

Denny Schneider, head of the grassroots Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (which has done battle with LAX for years), said he was to hear the same old lines again.

“[The FAA] has no explanation for the noise levels. They claim that nothing has changed. But the problem is that each ‘review’ of data doesn’t seem to identify a problem to be solved. They keep telling us that all is the same over the past couple years, when we know something is different,” Schneider said.

Playa del Rey bluffs resident Kathryn Cheatham, who has previously complained to LAX about airport noise and is concerned about its long-term impact on property values, said she’s happy that Bonin is putting pressure on the FAA.

“I appreciate that someone is taking a stand,” Cheatham said. “We don’t have air conditioning, and on hot days we have to keep our windows open with all of this [noise and air] pollution.”