Effort To Undo Flight Path Above Lake Arrowhead Stalling Out

Seven months after complaints from Lake Arrowhead residents began to register with federal, state and local officials over the jet engine noise they were being subjected to as a consequence of the flight path rerouting put into effect by the Federal Aviation Administration on April 27, the issue has yet to be resolved.
The jets in question, many of them operated by UPS and FedEx and others ferrying passengers, now fly almost directly over Lake Arrowhead on what has been designated as the EAGLZ route, at times as little as 3,500 feet above the community high in the San Bernardino Mountains. The flight path to Ontario International Airport was altered in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Southern California Metroplex project, which is designed to increase the fuel efficiency of air traffic overflying and landing in Southern California. Under the flight matrices laid out in Metroplex, pilots follow pre-programmed flight tangents that are more direct in their approaches to Ontario and other Southland airports. The guideposts for those routes are beamed to the planes from navigational satellites. Over the last eight months, virtually all planes flying into Southern California have been outfitted with instrumentation needed for them to follow the Metroplex flight paths. The Metroplex paths replace dozens of traditional air routes for approaches to six airports in Southern California from some 40 mid-to-large airports elsewhere in the United States.
Previously, planes coming into Ontario from the east followed a flight path that is directly over Heaps Peak, which is close to Skyforest and roughly two miles distant from Lake Arrowhead. The reason for the change under the Southern California Metroplex system and the creation of the EAGLZ route is to avoid what in Federal Aviation Administration nomenclature is referred to as “conflicts” with other flight paths, in this case routes taken by aircraft flying on a tangent from eastward originations heading to Long Beach Airport and John Wayne Airport.
With the lion’s share of the flights following EAGLZ flying at an average altitude of 9,000 feet above sea level, most of the jets fly less than 4,000 feet above 5,174 foot-altitude Lake Arrowhead.
There are conflicting figures as to how many planes come into Ontario on the EAGLZ route daily, with the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledging an average of no fewer than 29. Anecdotal, and therefore unofficial, counts by residents put that number at closer to 80 per day.
While the primary objection voiced by residents of Lake Arrowhead and the nearby communities is the sound of the aircraft, there has been concern expressed that jet fuel exhaust from the planes flying directly over Lake Arrowhead which settles downward represents an unacceptable health risk to the residents there as well.
Relatively early on, those lodging protests over the flight route change called for restoring the traditional flight path. The Federal Aviation Administration made no such adjustment, however. In reaction, those animated about the matter contemplated and even threatened legal action targeting both the Federal Aviation Administration and Ontario International Airport. No entity to serve as a plaintiff existed, however. Moreover, none of the individuals impacted had the financial wherewithal to fund such a lawsuit.
This summer, a coalition, Quiet Skies Lake Arrowhead, was formed, spearheaded by Lake Arrowhead resident David Caine. The coalition has stepped up the effort to lobby the Federal Aviation Administration, top Federal Aviation Administrator Michael P. Huerta, U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, Congressman Paul Cook, California State Senator Mike Morrell and San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford to redress the problem. To some extent, Feinstein, Cook and Rutherford have responded, but their efforts have not prompted any significant movement on the part of the Federal Aviation Administration. At one point, Rutherford indicated her office would force the issue with the Federal Aviation Administration, but no resolution has come about.
Those seeking to have the EAGLZ route jettisoned and have pilots return to the traditional flight path have been met with assertions by the Federal Aviation Administration that EAGLZ is key to achieving the goals of the Metroplex project, which is intended to reduce fuel consumption of planes landing at six California airports by 2.7 million gallons annually, achieve a commensurate reduction in hydrocarbon emissions, reduce fuel costs by $7.8 million and efficientize air travel into Southern California generally.
Moreover, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, it widely disseminated information about its intention to undertake the Metroplex project, and over the course of more than 19 months held 27 workshops related to the plan throughout Southern California at which it sought public input. Based upon its technical studies and public input, the administration claims, it issued a finding of “no significant consequence” arising from the actuation of the Metroplex project and its revamped flight routes.
Mountain residents have cried foul, saying the Federal Aviation Administration held none of those workshops in or near Lake Arrowhead, where the impact of the project is greatest. Meanwhile, a number of residents have given serious reconsideration to the ultimate legal option of suing the Federal Aviation Administration over the imposition of the route, which is what Newport Beach, Phoenix, Arizona and Bethesda, Maryland have done in reaction to flight path deviations that impacted their citizens. Along those lines, some have suggested that Lake Arrowhead could band together with Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles and Culver City in a collective suit relating to discomfiture with the Metroplex project.
Others have sounded a note of caution about turning on the litigation option. While Dennis Roberts, the regional administrator for the FAA Western-Pacific Region, is moving slowly in his reexamination of the EAGLZ flight path, he is reportedly set to address the issue. Some, such as Lewis Murray, one of Supervisor Rutherford field representatives, said Rutherford has made progress in her dialogue with Roberts and other Federal Aviation Administration officials. If a lawsuit is filed, those warning against going to court say, that dialogue will be foreclosed.
Rutherford must stand for reelection in 2018. If the gambit to have the Federal Aviation Administration rethink and undo the EAGLZ flight path fails, she will need to justify to voters in the San Bernardino Mountain portion of her district why she did not support them in taking an aggressive legal stand against the intrusive flight paths by persuading her board colleagues to have the county undertake the lawsuit many in the Lake Arrowhead community have come to believe is their only path toward relief.
-Mark Gutglueck

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