Airport callers get bum steer

If you want to complain about airplanes making the right-turn departure, McCarran International Airport has an idea: Call either a disconnected number in Los Angeles or the cell phone of a city of Las Vegas public information officer.

That was the message callers to a Clark County Department of Aviation noise complaint hot line received late Wednesday evening and into Thursday.

“It was an honest mistake,” said Chris Jones, a spokesman for McCarran, which is run by the Department of Aviation.

The city number had been removed by mid-morning Thursday, a couple of hours after McCarran officials first learned of the mistake. And the other phone number was replaced by a regional Federal Aviation Administration noise complaint hot line.

But the regional FAA number directed callers back to the McCarran noise complaint hot line that had instructed them to call that number in the first place.

This bureaucratic roundabout and the incorrect phone numbers set off city officials, who long have contended that the county and the FAA are discouraging public comment on the recent changes in flight patterns.

“It takes real gall for a public agency to refuse to talk to or listen to the public it serves,” Mayor Oscar Goodman said.

Councilman Steve Wolfson, who represents much of the northwest valley that has been affected by an increase in aircraft noise, said: “Whether it’s intentional or a mistake, they’re doing everything they can do to discourage constituents affected by the noise.”

Claudette Dorian, 64, continues to lodge complaints despite what she sees as county and FAA attempts to dissuade her. “That’s what it’s designed to do. It’s telling you: ‘There’s nothing else to say. It’s done and go away,’” said Dorian, who lives in the northwest valley.

The city number that McCarran gave out was the direct line to Diana Paul, a spokeswoman for the city. Because she had set up her line to forward office calls to her cell phone, she received five or six calls from residents lodging complaints late Wednesday.

Jones said county officials had intended to send calls to a general city of Las Vegas number because some callers’ questions had to do with city issues, such as the status of its legal fight against the FAA over the right turn.

The other wrong number was supposed to be for the FAA’s public information office. Those who called that number in the 310 area code got a recording of a pleasant female voice saying: “This call cannot be completed as dialed.”

According to McCarran’s Web site, the noise complaint line was established to “assist and advise the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the development, modification, and implementation of air traffic procedures and policies.”

But Jones said the city has “misled” people into believing this is a line specifically for the right turn. He also said the FAA’s public comment period is over, though the city’s consultant said complaints could be effective early on during implementation of a new flight path. Complaints are logged and passed on to officials, Jones said.

Since March 20, about 200 planes on most days have taken off following the new right-turn flight path. The planes take off heading west and then arc around to the north — making a right turn — before heading east.

Many residents have been surprised by the noise and have matched the din with one of their own, complaining about sleepless nights, unused backyards and the potential for sliding home values.

But that has been matched by another vocal segment of the community arguing that those under the right turn need to bear part of the burden of living in a metropolis dependent on tourists flying here.

The FAA, which made the decision, said the change is needed to increase capacity and efficiency at the airport.

Tension has been building between the city of Las Vegas and the Clark County Commission over the right turn.

While the city has been vocally against the new flight path and is paying for a legal fight, county commissioners have not taken a position for or against the right turn. The county has said the decision is solely the FAA’s.

But at Wednesday’s council meeting, City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said she was told by county officials that airport officials were upset with a 2001 FAA decision to do away with a similar right-turn flight path and had been lobbying the FAA for its reinstatement.

Greg Toussaint, who served on a city-formed airport noise panel, said Clark County Department of Aviation Director Randy Walker addressed the city panel on Feb. 8, 2006.

“He told us that he was angry when the right turn stopped in 2001 and pushed them (the FAA) to get it started ever since,” Toussaint said. “He said he was not going to take a public stand on it because they (the FAA) made the mistake and they should take the heat for it.”

Walker was unavailable for comment Thursday, Jones said.

Two members of the County Commission said Thursday that they had concerns about the right turn. But neither would commit to joining the city’s legal fight.

“I wouldn’t support a legal battle that has next to no chance of winning,” Commissioner Chip Maxfield said. “I want to do something that is not patronizing but effective.”

He said the FAA and Nellis Air Force Base officials should sit down with the community.

Commissioner Susan Brager said she is taking comments from constituents “extremely seriously.”

She said she still is gathering information on what the county can do.

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