Residents Urge County Council To Fund Airspace Consultant To Fight Noisy Flight Path Changes

Planes to and from Reagan National Airport have been flying closer to Bethesda-area homes since 2015 and concerned homeowners say they have no way to stop the noise


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Janelle Wright testifies Tuesday night in front of the County Council in favor of funding an airspace consultant to provide options to change flight paths in the Bethesda area

Montgomery County Cable

Several residents are urging the Montgomery County Council to allocate $150,000 to hire an airspace expert to analyze potential solutions to Federal Aviation Administration flight path changes that have created ongoing noise problems in Bethesda-area neighborhoods.

The hiring of an airspace expert, if funded, would be the latest effort by county officials to attempt to address complaints from residents about the noise they say has resulted from the flight path changes that began in 2015.

Over the past three years, county officials have tried pleading with the federal agency to reverse the flight path changes and recommended changes through a regional working group that includes Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., residents. The county also is supporting a state lawsuit against the federal agency over the flight paths.

The FAA has previously stated it changed the flight paths to and from Reagan National Airport to streamline air traffic into “super highways” in an effort to reduce fuel costs and increase safety. The changes resulted in airplanes flying a concentrated and lower route over neighborhoods in Potomac, Cabin John and Bethesda. Previously the departing and arriving planes would travel over a broader area of Montgomery County and followed a flight path that directed many planes over the Potomac River.

“Our neighborhoods have been devastated by airplane noise,” Janelle Wright, a leader of the Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition, said Tuesday during a public forum on the county’s proposed $5.6 billion fiscal 2019 operating budget in Rockville. “Over 400 airplanes every day are flying in a precise path over our communities.”

The residents asked council members during the hearing to fund the airspace expert, who would be expected to present solutions addressing the noise issues to the FAA.

Prior to the public hearing Tuesday night, council President Hans Riemer and member Roger Berliner sent a memo Friday to other council members suggesting the council add $150,000 to the 2019 operating budget to fund airspace consultant work.

Riemer and Berliner wrote in their memo that the outcome of the state lawsuit is unknown and the regional working group has been an ineffective forum for getting the federal agency to address the noise issues.

“Airspace consultants have been hired by other communities facing similar issues in order to develop new flight path proposals for the FAA,” the council members wrote. “This subject matter expert would be better equipped to engage with FAA officials about the complexities of alternative flight path and flight procedure development.”

William Noonan, a Cabin John resident, said Tuesday that he worked six days each week for several decades to be able to purchase his home in the neighborhood when he was about 50 years old.

He said he had enjoyed outdoor barbecue dinners with his family and gardening in his yard—until the airplane noise began.

“The planes are so loud that when I try to enjoy one of those barbecue dinners with my family, we all have to raise our voices in order to hear each other,” Noonan told the council. “In the evening, if we want to catch a half hour of Netflix and relax, we have to turn up the TV.”

He said he has to close all the windows and wear headphones to block the noise when he occasionally works from home.

Paula Curran, administrator at the Clara Barton Center for Children in Cabin John, said the preschool’s windows occasionally rattle from airplane noise.

“This is not a faint sound like of an airplane or a helicopter in the distance,” Curran said. “This noise is so loud we can’t be outside to raise the flag, say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing songs and have normal conversations.”

The council is continuing to take residents’ testimony on the operating budget at three more public hearings this week. Each year the council reviews the budget proposal transferred by the county executive and typically approves its version of the budget by late May.

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