Keep It Down! Residents Near Reagan National Bring Noise Complaints To FAA

By Martin Di Caro, 7/8/2015, WAMU 88.5

There is no disagreement that Reagan National Airport generates noise affecting neighborhoods along the Potomac River, but there remains no consensus among homeowners and public officials on whether the noise actually has worsened in recent years. All sides have agreed to keep talking, though.

Local residents made their case Wednesday to representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, the regional airports authority and major airlines. The meeting at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority — closed to the news media — was the latest effort by officials to listen to residents’ complaints and offer potential solutions.

The FAA gave a presentation reviewing flight procedures to the north of the runways that direct planes over the Georgetown, Foxhall Village and Palisades neighborhoods in D.C.

“We also presented some options that we are looking at in an effort to relieve some of the noise on the D.C side of the river. They involve moving the flight tracks as much over the water as possible,” said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown.

The various groups planned to meet again and to include representatives from neighborhoods in Arlington and Alexandria to comprehensively address complaints that, officials insist, are being taken seriously — even if they do not share homeowners’ conclusion that the airplane noise is worse now than ever before.

“They are expressing legitimate concerns about aircraft noise. We are a member of this community. Several of us live here and so it is important to us to try to address these concerns as best we can,” said American Airlines’ Vice President Michael Minerva. American is representing the major carriers at Reagan National in the noise discussions.

Noise late, noise early

Among homeowners’ various concerns can be found two main points: Late night and early morning flights are wrecking their sleep, and modified flight paths based on satellite-based radar systems are concentrating flights over certain neighborhoods.

“In the last couple of months, I’ve noticed for the first time in 30 years living in west Georgetown, that all of a sudden planes are flying over 35th Street They were located further west before. Now they are flying right over our neighborhoods,” said Robert vom Eigen of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, in an interview after the meeting.

“Flights are coming out earlier. Landings are closer to the homes. So, overall it is a concern,” added Ed Solomon, an ANC commissioner in Georgetown.

“I’d like to see flight operations change which would lessen the impact on the community. What those alterations would be is going to be in discussion,” Solomon said.

‘The planes are not noisier’

Officials dispute residents’ contention that larger planes are causing more noise. Instead, they concede narrower, refined flight paths are concentrating aircraft over certain homes near the river.

“So as a result, some people get less noise than they used to. Some people get more noise than they used to,” Minerva said.

“The planes are not noisier. It is simply the time of day,” Minerva said, referring to early morning flights, including a 5:05 a.m. American flight to Chicago.

“Those flights are full of passengers who bought tickets for them. As always with noise issues, you are balancing a variety of concerns. The challenging fact that we deal with that can’t change, is the Potomac River has a bend in it. So any straight line will necessary be over land on one side or the other, either Virginia or D.C.,” Minerva added.

Neighbors who attended the meeting reported afterward that American Airlines’ representatives said they fly only four flights before 6 a.m. even though there is demand for many more. They also reported that airports authority officials said they have received more noise complaints from homeowners on both sides of the river.

In an interview, an airports authority spokesman also said planes are not necessarily noisier, but the timing of flights is an issue.

“Aircraft noise is a very complicated issue with a lot of variables. It has to do with weather, temperature, humidity, wind speed, cloud cover, terrain, and that is how it has always been,” said MWAA’s David Mould.

“I think the big thing that has changed in the minds of many is that airplanes are now flying earlier in the morning and later at night,” he added.