Local Elected Officials Request FAA Undertake Airplane Noise Study

Montgomery County residents continue to complain about increasing airplane noise from Reagan National flights


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As complaints from constituent continue to pour in, elected officials from Montgomery County are requesting the Federal Aviation Administration to commission a study examining the recent increase in airplane noise created by flights heading to Reagan Washington National Airport.

Officials including Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, Reps. John Delaney and Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner sent a letter Monday to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta requesting information about a specific flight path procedure for arrivals.

The officials said flight path changes made by the FAA in 2015 resulted in incoming flights to Reagan generating more noise over Montgomery County. Despite the FAA claiming to have undertaken an environmental review of the changes before they were implemented, elected officials and many residents of the area have said they didn’t know about the flight path alterations until after they were put in place.

“Our constituents daily suffer the disruptive and unhealthy effects of the implementation of the flight procedure changes,” the elected officials said in the joint letter.

They requested the FAA study the noise levels experienced before and after the flight paths were changed. And they want the review to be completed by June 5, according to the letter.

Arriving flights to DCA are now flying closer to Bethesda after a 2015 change. 

Ken Hartman, the county’s regional services director in Bethesda and a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority community noise working group, said Tuesday the concerns about the arrival procedure are different from those about changes in departure routes that have also resulted in noise complaints from county residents. The changes in arrival procedures have resulted in planes flying to Reagan from the north passing about 2,000 to 3,000 feet over the Carderock, Cabin John and Glen Echo areas in Bethesda and Potomac. Hartman said the county wants to know whether FAA ever undertook a public process to vet this change in the arrival route before it was implemented.

Hartman said the working group has recommended the FAA change flight paths to direct more flights over the Potomac River, but the group is not sure if the FAA has received the recommendation.

An image showing how radar tracks have shifted east after the 2015 change. 

Last year, Montgomery County sampled noise levels in early August and found jet aircraft noise levels in Bethesda reach between 56 to 66 decibels on the ground—noise equivalent to a conversation or an air conditioner.

FAA officials told local residents at a September public meeting in Bethesda that the flight path changes were part of the agency’s broader NextGen plan to streamline flights into networks of air highways capable of handling more flights.

In January, the FAA ditched a plan to move a departure waypoint closer to Bethesda communities near the Potomac River that residents said could have exacerbated the noise issue. But still, several residents said at the time the arrival flight paths need to be reexamined as well.

Local legislators including state Sen. Susan Lee of Bethesda and Dels. Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman also sent letters to Leggett, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Gov. Larry Hogan about the airplane noise. The letters to Leggett and Frosh urge the county and state to take legal action against the FAA, which the legislators say has failed to correct the noise issue.

“The FAA’s intransigence leaves us little choice but to take action in the court system,” the letter to Leggett says. “Legal action presents our best opportunity to force the FAA to take our concerns seriously.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that FAA undertook a public review of flight path changes before implementing them, however it has been changed to clarify that despite the agency saying the review took place, elected officials have not seen evidence of it being public and that they were not notified about the changes before they were implemented.

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