Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) may not restrict Stage 3 aircraft from departing to the east, or over the city, during overnight hours, FAA ruled.

The vast majority of LAX departures depart over the ocean, but occasionally pilots of heavy aircraft—mostly bound for Asia—ask instead to depart to the east. Nearby residents have complained, and Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) sought FAA’s permission in 2013 to ban over-city departures between midnight and 6:30 a.m. 

LAWA had agreed to petition the FAA in 2006, when it settled a lawsuit with several nearby communities—a settlement allowing it to move its southernmost-LAX runway slightly closer to surrounding neighborhoods. 

“According to LAWA, air carriers that would normally depart to the east would continue to operate by reducing their payload so they can safely depart west, or they would wait until more favorable wind conditions exist,” the FAA said in a summary of LAWA’s position. 

But the FAA, in a decision dated Nov. 7 and made public this week, denied the Part 161 application, saying it would create undue hardship on airlines in the overnight hours and was not legal under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. According to the filing, the FAA had concerns that LAX’s application was both unreasonable and arbitrary. The airport also failed to show its proposal “does not create an undue burden or interstate or foreign commerce.” 

In a remarkably thorough discussion, the FAA noted that carriers would face hardships, such as increased crew costs and higher fees for using ground-power units during delays. Carriers might also need to deny boarding to some passengers, at considerable cost. 

In its denial, the FAA also noted that pilots need the option of taking off to the west during overnight hours. “The primary reason aircraft do not adhere to the Over-Ocean departure is because the pilot deems that a westerly tailwind may adversely affect the safety of the aircraft operation, the FAA’s decision notes. “A tailwind from east to west blows from behind an aircraft departing to the west, and does not provide as much lift as a headwind.”

LAWA suggested on its public website that the fix would ensure LAX received fewer complaints from neighborhood residents, as “a pilot can request to deviate from the established procedure, occasional non-conforming flights choose to take off to the east over the City causing significant disruption of sleep.”

In 2013, the airport authority noted an average of about 65 aircraft per year requested overnight departures over the city in the past 11 years.