Potomac Column: Responding to Excessive Aircraft Noise

Potomac Column: Responding to Excessive Aircraft Noise


Montgomery County Council Vice President Roger Berliner, who chairs the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, made the following statement regarding the recent increase in significant aircraft noise from planes departing from and arriving to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that is impacting residents of the county.

The purpose of today’s [Oct. 5] hearing is to understand why the quality of life for so many of our residents has been so negatively affected by airplane noise. We will learn how we got to this point, and shed some light as to how our community can most effectively respond.

For years, airplane traffic has been an annoyance as planes flew over our community. I know because for 20 years I lived along the Potomac River where they flew every day. And it was an annoyance, but a tolerable one. That changed dramatically this past December. Over the last 10 months, instead of an irritation that was widely dispersed throughout the region, it has become a concentrated, amplified, and unending disturbance for many of our residents. It is unacceptable that property values, quality of life and people’s health have been impacted so dramatically with so little forethought. Here is one sobering example that was shared with me:

“... My family and I are new to Brookmont, but we specifically opted not to purchase a home here (despite the opportunity to do so), and to rent instead, because of the incessant and overwhelming airplane noise. When we first discovered Brookmont this summer . . . we were immediately struck by its uniqueness, sense of community, and natural beauty. Unfortunately, just as immediately, we were struck by the relentless passing overhead of airplane after airplane, which creates such an audible and visible disruption that it is difficult to enjoy what the neighborhood otherwise has to offer ….”

This is just one troubling example of the many, many messages I have received from our residents.

So, here is my understanding of how we got to this unacceptable place.

For many years, the technology that was used to guide airplanes was radar based. Technology has changed, and now we have the capacity to guide airplanes with GPS and satellites. That capability makes it possible for more concentrated flight paths. NextGEN is the system that FAA is employing to move from radar to satellite.

However, the process that ushered in the NextGEN changes was done without meaningful review of the impact it would have on the communities underneath its new satellite-based flight rails. Coupled with an increase in flights based out of Reagan National instead of Dulles, and the lack of a proper curfew for flight scheduling, our citizens are constantly besieged by unbearable noise.

To put it simply, the status quo is not an option here. Nationwide, communities are being overwhelmed by the effects of NextGEN. And changes that are contemplated, like what is called LAZIR-B, are not going to help. In fact, we believe they will only amplify the issue for many of our residents.

With the work of Congressman Chris Van Hollen, and the efforts of Ken Hartman on behalf of County Executive Ike Leggett, we are trying to affect change. Though they were invited, the FAA is unfortunately not represented at today's committee meeting. With the public outcry over these issues, it is disappointing that they declined the invitation.

I look forward to hearing from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Mr. Hartman on their thoughts on how we can better serve our community and ensure that no one portion of any community gets impacted in such an unacceptable way.