Montgomery County Preparing for Possible Lawsuit Over Increasing Airplane Noise

The county is hiring a law firm to examine whether it has a case to take on the Federal Aviation Administration


An airplane flies over a home in Montgomery County in May 2017

via Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition

As increasing airplane noise continues to frustrate residents in Bethesda and Potomac, the Montgomery County Council has decided to hire a law firm to examine whether it can take on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recent flight path changes in court.

The council on Tuesday is scheduled to approve a resolution to hire the law firm Dentons LLP to determine whether there was an appropriate amount of public input when the FAA in 2014 and 2015 changed the flight paths of planes bound from and to Reagan National Airport.

The FAA made the changes as part of a nationwide effort dubbed NextGen to streamline air traffic into superhighways in the sky to make flights more efficient.

The planes travelling on narrower flight paths created significantly more noise in the Bethesda and Potomac neighborhoods located below, according to county officials. In 2016, individual complaints about airplane noise from Montgomery County residents rose more than 2,000 percent, from 38 total complaints in 2015 to 807 in 2016, according to county data. Previously, planes flew in a broader path over the Potomac River, closer to Northern Virginia, that officials believe better diffused jet engine noise.

Dentons is handling similar airplane noise cases for communities affected by flight path changes near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The City of Phoenix is also pursuing a lawsuit against the FAA to try to get the agency to revert back to the flight path routes used in 2014 after officials received a stream of noise complaints there.

County Council President Roger Berliner said Monday during a press briefing that Dentons will examine whether the county has standing to pursue a case against the FAA and analyze its chances of success. He noted the legal memorandum will cost about $7,500 and said that bringing in the law firm is “a positive step forward in protecting our residents from action taken by the FAA that was ill advised and many believe unlawful.”

Berliner said the FAA failed to analyze the noise impacts of the flight path changes before they were instituted. He said the lawsuit will likely be necessary because he’s concerned a regional consensus can’t be reached on the issue as many communities in Northern Virginia benefited from the flight path changes by having noise over their communities reduced.

 “I don’t believe [the FAA] has done what an administrative agency is supposed to do in assessing the impact of their actions. That’s what leads you to a legal action,” Berliner said”

Residents near Baltimore Washington International Airport have also expressed concern about increasing airplane noise in their communities after the flight path changes.

In May, Gov. Larry Hogan wrote a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta urging him to make changes to the NextGen flight path system to reduce noise pollution.

“There is certainly merit to transitioning into a satellite-based air traffic control system,” Hogan wrote. “However, while the NextGen system will provide savings for the airline industry, I will not have the citizens of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties pay a human cost with their health and emotional well-being.”

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