Los Angeles Sues FAA Over Burbank Airport Frustrations

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
The Hollywood Burbank Airport’s replacement terminal project appears to have hit a roadblock, with the city of Los Angeles suing the Federal Aviation Administration in an attempt to force it to address potential noise and air traffic concerns related to the project.

The city of Los Angeles sued the Federal Aviation Administration this week, saying its concerns regarding the terminal replacement project at the Hollywood Burbank Airport were not considered when the FAA allowed the project to move forward.

If the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of the city, which filed the lawsuit on Monday, it would present an obstacle for the controversial terminal project. L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer argued in a news release that the FAA failed to address the city’s concerns about potential noise, air quality and traffic impacts caused by the project.

“Once again we’re standing up to the FAA and fighting for the residents of Los Angeles,” Feuer, whose office also recently won a lawsuit against the agency for issues related to the Los Angeles International Airport, said in the news release. “Here we allege that the FAA flouted significant environmental rules in preparing for the planned replacement terminal at Burbank Airport.”

L.A. officials and residents have expressed concerns about the planned project for years. When the FAA presented an environmental impact statement saying the new terminal “would have either no impacts or no significant impacts” on noise, air traffic and other environmental aspects, the L.A. city attorney’s office responded with a letter claiming the administration’s analysis was insufficient.

The city of L.A. is now asking the court to set aside the FAA’s environmental impact analysis and require it to conduct another one.

Studio City residents have also said new flight patterns from the Hollywood Burbank Airport have swarmed their neighborhood with aircrafts, the Los Angeles Times reported last year. An online petition from advocacy group Studio City for Quiet Skies, which has collected more than 4,000 signatures, argues the larger terminal will prompt more departures.

The petition also takes aim at Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena — which jointly oversee the local airport — saying the cities “reap the profits [but] refuse to share the noise and pollution from overflights.” Studio City for Quiet Skies has encouraged residents online to lobby Feuer’s office to sue the FAA over the replacement terminal “and use it as leverage to fix the flight paths.”

The replacement terminal would not increase the number of gates present at the current facility.

In 2019, the city of L.A. filed a suit against the FAA over the reported noise issues, claiming the agency has allowed planes to divert from previously established flight paths, resulting in aircrafts flying more south — closer to L.A. neighborhoods.

In court filings, the FAA agreed that flights have shifted south by about one-third of a mile, but reiterated its argument that the change is attributable to air temperature, aircraft weight, air traffic volume and other factors outside its control. The shift is particularly noticeable, its representatives added, because of the population density of the neighborhoods affected.

“Yet simply because more people notice the relatively small shift does not mean FAA caused it,” the agency’s attorneys said, adding that the FAA continues to work with a noise task force formed by local officials across the San Fernando Valley.

That task force, which includes council members from Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and L.A., recommended last year that the FAA reverse the changes to the flight tracts it made in 2017 — when L.A. officials said air traffic increased. But the FAA said doing so wasn’t feasible and that a higher volume of aircraft necessitated the shift southward to give planes more time to turn north.

The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority approved the replacement of the roughly 90-year-old terminal in 2016, and nearly 70% of Burbank voters backed a measure permitting the project later that year. Proponents have said that while the existing terminal is safe, it doesn’t meet current FAA standards and state building requirements.

Frank Miller, executive director of the Hollywood Burbank Airport, said in a statement to the Leader that while he hasn’t seen the new lawsuit, he’s disappointed with the city of L.A.’s actions.

“If this lawsuit concerns flight tracks, it seems unnecessary considering that L.A. already has sued the FAA over that and has a court hearing in September,” Miller added. “I hope this litigation is quickly resolved in a manner that promotes the interests of all stakeholders.”

The current terminal is roughly 232,000 square feet. The proposed replacement will not exceed 355,000 square feet, and the airport will pay the $1.2 billion required to design and build it.