Las Vegas Looks at Fighting Changes in Flight Path

Gearing up for a legal showdown with the federal government, the Las Vegas City Council will consider next week earmarking up to $400,000 to challenge a new flight path for planes departing McCarran International Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration determined last month that the so-called right turn flight path had no significant impacts that would require further study. That new flight path would send hundreds of planes per day taking off west from McCarran over the northwest Las Vegas Valley.

The FAA has said the new flight path would be instituted in March, though city officials said they hoped to delay that with legal action.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, Councilman Steve Wolfson and Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian have vowed to fight last month's approval of the plan, which they say poses safety concerns. Until now, the legal costs to the city of such a fight were unknown.

On Wednesday, the council will decide if the battle will be worth it.

"Our company doesn't take on clients who don't have a good chance," said George Williams, secretary/treasurer with Williams Aviation Consulting, which would be in line for a contract with the city not to exceed $100,000.

"There are several deficiencies in the claims by the FAA and its consultants on the right turn that have not been resolved when they issued their opinion of no significant impact," Williams said.

He pointed to, among other things, concerns about conflicts with flights at Nellis Air Force Base and the North Las Vegas Airport. He also said that because of air traffic issues, there would be minimal benefits in efficiency.

If the council approves it, up to $300,000 would be set aside to pay the California law firm Chevalier, Allen and Lichman.

FAA officials have said the plan, similar to one abandoned in 2001, is necessary to improve efficiency at the airport. They also have said safety concerns are unfounded.

Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA, would not comment about pending or threatened litigation. But, he said, "We believe the (Environmental Impact Statement) and finding of no significant impact is solid. We believe it's the proper finding."

City Attorney Brad Jerbic said the council would have to act now in order to make the Jan. 11 federal deadline to appeal.

"If the city engages the services of the consultant and the attorney, our hope is the FAA stands down until litigation is completed," Jerbic said.

Williams said he served with the FAA for 37 years, retiring as the air traffic division manager for the Western Pacific Region, which includes California, Arizona and Nevada.

He has been consulting for nine years.

"We haven't had a failure. We've come up with some kind of concession every time since we've been in business."

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