Pilots of planes flying in and out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport are supposed to follow particular routes that keep them at a comfortable distance from major residential communities. But for those living in the Langley Forest area of McLean, it turns out that most pilots are not likely to stick to their prescribed routes.
"It's a matter of convenience," said Paul Weiland, co-chair of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Environment, Parks and Recreation committee. "With fuel costs rising, they will save time and fuel any way they can, and it's just easier to turn earlier and avoid having to go all the way up the Potomac River to the American Legion Bridge."
The Environment, Parks and Recreation committee has been investigating residents' ongoing complaints about increased air traffic noise over McLean for the last two years. The committee contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and inquired about the problem, but were not satisfied with the explanation that was given.
"The FAA said it was because of increased density of air traffic at National, which is unbelievable," said Weiland.
In 2006, members of the committee enlisted the aid of U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), and were pleased at his willingness to help.
"He was very responsive," said Weiland.
Wolf contacted the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (WMAA) and procured monthly noise data tables and flight track print-outs for the McLean Citizens Association Environment, Parks and Recreation committee.
AFTER STUDYING the information, committee members concluded that complaints about increased air traffic noise had been well warranted. Based on the information provided, the committee found that noise levels in the Langley Forest area of McLean have continued to increase over the past year at a rate higher than anywhere else north of the airport. And according to the Environment, Parks and Recreation committee findings, the Langley Forest area of McLean has experienced an increase in Day Night Average Noise Level (DNL) of 3.6 decibels since the year 2000 — meaning that average noise levels in that area have more than doubled in the last six years.
Examination of the flight track print-outs revealed that the marked noise level increase over the McLean area is primarily due to the fact that the vast majority of pilots ignore the noise abatement procedures that require them to follow the Potomac River all the way to the American Legion Bridge.
"The issue is that they're not following the route they're supposed to follow," said McLean Citizens Association Board member Wade Smith. "They're cutting corners and turning at the bridge."
The data showed that pilots typically opted for the more direct and efficient route of flying over the densely populated residential areas on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.
"When required flight patterns are no longer being observed, your residential communities get severely impacted," said Environment, Parks and Recreation co-chair Frank Crandall.
Given their findings, the Environment, Parks and Recreation committee drafted a letter from the McLean Citizens Association to Wolf, requesting that he contact FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and urge her to take steps to ensure that pilots adhere to existing noise abatement procedures.