Las Vegas Loses Bid to Block Flight Path

The sounds heard in the skies over the northwest Las Vegas Valley for the first time this morning are airliners on the new "right turn" flight path.

The groans on the ground in the same area are the opponents of the flight path. They suffered their latest loss this week in their effort to prevent the change in air traffic patterns.

Las Vegas' motion to delay the new flight path was rejected Monday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The city is continuing to wage a legal battle against the new flight path, accusing the FAA of not following federal environmental laws before making the decision to use the plan.

While that awaits sorting out in the courts, the new flight path will be used. The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that starting today, about 200 airliners will be making a turn over the northwest valley after taking off from McCarran International Airport each day.

"We're going to be keeping a close eye on operations ... to make sure everything goes smoothly. There's no reason to think it won't," said Ian Gregor, FAA spokesman.

Many northwest residents will be keeping an eye - and an ear - on the new flight path too, their city councilman, Steve Wolfson, said. "We will all have to see exactly what affect the planes will have on the quality of our lives," he said.

Greg Toussaint, president of The Lakes Homeowners Association and the most vocal opponent of the change in flight path, said he would go about his business as usual today, but he disagreed with the FAA's decision to start using the new flight path.

"It's disappointing, I think, that a federal agency would do this, given that it's not fully adjudicated yet," he said. "It's just the arrogance of the federal government at work once again."

City Attorney Brad Jerbic on Wednesday said the city's consultants thought that the flight path being introduced would have fewer planes taking the new route and using less engine thrust - thereby creating less noise - to minimize complaints.

Gregor dismissed that Monday and said the flight path would be "fully implemented" from the start. Flights could make the right turn 24 hours a day, but Gregor said few flights depart between

12:30 and 6:30 a.m.

Before this morning, all but a few planes taking off westward from McCarran each day headed south once they were airborne, making a left turn, before heading east.

The FAA has said the new flight path was needed to increase efficiency at the busy airport. But critics theorized that their were ulterior motives, from airlines looking to save on fuel costs to development interests looking to reduce noise over the southwest portion of the Las Vegas Valley, where planes currently fly.

Residents' concerns, aired in community meetings, ranged from the impact of the noise to concerns about the safety of airliners flying over such a densely populated area.

Supporters for the change said that those who live in the "Republic of Summerlin" were unwilling to share in the negative impacts of growth.

About 1,800 public comments came in to the FAA before officials decided there would be no significant impact from the flight change.

On Jan. 3, the Las Vegas City Council unanimously approved paying up to $357,000 to a law firm and consultant to fight the right turn plan.

The issue behind the legal challenge is the contention that the FAA failed to examine sufficiently the impact of air quality on the Las Vegas Valley, as required under federal law.

The city's consultant, Williams Aviation, and lawyer, Barbara Lichman, did not return calls seeking comment.

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