Bonnie Mannigan is losing sleep. The roar of low-flying planes over her home in the Penrose neighborhood, only miles from Reagan National Airport, has become unbearable, leading her and other local residents to take action.
"From just after 6 a.m. to 11 at night, we constantly hear planes," she told an airport advisory committee last Thursday, Oct. 14 during a meeting at Courthouse Plaza. "We are an old neighborhood, but we are right on the take-off route."
The meeting was organized by Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to hear the public's feedback on a series of eight proposed changes to National's take-off and landing procedures to help reduce noise levels.
PROPOSALS INCLUDE instituting a mandatory flight path over the Potomac River, using the water as a natural sound barrier and establishing a designated turning point for planes over the Potomac five to 10 miles south of the runway so that planes vary which neighborhoods they fly over. The turning point would redirect planes over national forest land and away from homes when possible.
The other measures suggest phasing out flights of particular kinds of jets, which are said to create the highest levels of noise.
They also suggest making revisions to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) flight policies at National to ensure planes use flap and power settings that reduce noise levels during take-offs and landings.
Two key recommendations ask for the creation of an organized system for residents to file complaints about aircraft noise, possibly through a website.
Another asks for updates to National's flight tracking equipment to ensure planes are kept out of residential areas.
"THE NUMBER ONE complaint about our neighborhood is that the airliners are too loud," said Pete Tyler, a representative of the Arlington County Civic Federation and a resident of Belleview Forest.
"Since 9/11 there has been an increase in the noise because more aircraft are flying over our house rather than over the river," he said. "It is common for us to be awakened by the sound of aircraft taking off early in mornings, one after the other, often only minutes apart."
Airport noise problems for Arlington residents have already been addressed in the past, according to Ron Lanskie of the Mount Vernon Civic Association.
"Arlington has already enjoyed some relief," Lanskie said. "They are not the aggrieved parties in this matter."
During the public's comments, the proposal to keep planes over the Potomac appeared to be the most popular; four of the speakers requested that the FAA put the proposal on a fast-track if it is approved.
DIRECTING PLANES to fly over the river could be one of the easiest remedies to pass FAA scrutiny because it uses a natural feature to reduce noise, said Gerry Hyland (D), who represents Mount Vernon on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
"Five years ago there was a rise in the number of low flights over residential communities which had never had them before," Hyland said. "It's impressing to me that there are so many flying so low."
Many residents, Hyland said, have tried to bring their case to the FAA, but federal officials have rejected their claims. "The FAA's first reaction was to tell us we didn't have our facts straight," he said.
The real solution, Hyland said, is changing the way the National's controllers handle the planes on their radar screen. "The people in the towers are the ones who decide where they are going to go," Hyland said.
Tom Sullivan, a representative of National Airport, cautioned that the proposed change in flight routes could take time even if it gains FAA approval.
"It's not just going to happen over night," he said. "It could take a year or more."