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Phoenix conducting internal investigation into extent of foreknowledge of flight path changes

PHOENIX — A low-level aviation employee in Phoenix has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into their involvement with the FAA’s development of new flight paths out of Sky Harbor Airport.

The flight path changes were implemented last fall for safety and efficiency purposes and have since led to hundreds of noise complaints from residents to the city and the airport. Those residents, as well as city hall executives, the mayor and the city council were all told there was no authorization or endorsement of the FAA changes, which now appears to be potentially false.

While aviation staff previously told city leaders that an employee had some interaction with the FAA regarding the development of new flight paths, City Manager Ed Zuercher said it now appears that the employee may have had more knowledge or involvement than was originally understood.

“An FAA official made some assertions about what the Phoenix staff knew,” Zuercher said. “As a follow up to that, we went back again to our employees to ask and in that questioning we were told some different information by an employee about how much they had been consulted in this.”

A memo sent by Zuercher to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and members of the city council explained the employee may have had more extensive involvement in the FAA’s planned flight path changes.

“Our employees are dialoguing back and forth with the FAA on several issues but the real issue is who speaks for the city, who speaks for the aviation department,” he said.

Zuercher said the revelation does not change the city’s belief that proper notification, consultation and analysis was not made by the FAA.

“Only the aviation director and assistant director are authorized to speak on behalf of the city on critical issues like flight paths,” he added. “And that’s been our assertion all along to the FAA — we have to have people work back and forth but there was not proper consultation done at the right levels in Phoenix.”

The memo elaborated on that FAA officials have yet to provide documentation that they formally notified proper aviation officials and decision makers in Phoenix about a “decision to dramatically impact the lives of (Phoenix) residents.”

Investigations into the development will include participation by an outside law firm to support the city’s ongoing legal analysis of the flight path issue.

“Our community wants to have this flight path issue resolved,” Zuercher wrote in the memo, “and we will continue taking steps to do that.”

The city has been considering taking legal action against the FAA over the changes.

An FAA spokesperson said the agency is working collaboratively to identify and analyze potential measures that could address Phoenix residents’ noise concerns.