Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Neighborhood Left Out of Airplane Noise Battle

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Neighborhood Left Out of Airplane Noise Battle

A recent article requests that Mt. Vernon Gazette readers in "affected neighborhoods" should support the proposal to change southerly plane departures to a route ostensibly centered over the river, that climbs to 5000 feet, and turns at 7000 feet at a point somewhere southwest of Ft. Belvoir.

However, we who live in the affected neighborhood near the Mt. Vernon Estate and are most affected by the proposal have been left out of the discussion, and we have not been given a chance to comment on the recommended change. First, the article describes a route that is not accurate as depicted, since aircraft do not fly from waypoint to waypoint at right angles. The planes must start turning westward in an arc before the way points, so they will fly much closer to the Mount Vernon Estate, and they will continue a continuous semi-circular turn along Ferry Landing Road (rather than somewhere near Ft. Belvoir), which is similar to what was depicted by the FAA at a recent meeting. In effect a 135-degree turn while climbing. This results in a significantly prolonged noise effect on our neighborhood.

We have previously tried to raise these issues, but have been rebuffed with dismissive admonishments about it having no impact for our neighborhood. These are pronouncements without any scientific basis. To the contrary, we have observed and heard planes following the new path and altitudes; they generated significant and prolonged periods of intolerable noise. In one case, a conversation that I was having in the back yard with a colleague had to stop for over two minutes due to noise from an aircraft.

Regarding the specified height levels, these are maximums, so that planes would often fly at altitudes lower than this. Most southbound departures will fly to a maximum of 5,000 feet, and will start turning in front of the river over Mt. Vernon, and rev their engines up to reach the maximum of 7,000 feet by Ferry Landing Road. This climbing turn could create a significant and sustained sound wave lasting for up to two minutes per plane.

Our noise concerns are accentuated by FAA's own consultant, a sound engineer from Brüel & Kjær, who had come from Australia to answer questions at a community noise meeting on Oct. 16, 2017. The engineer provided an interesting perspective, since he has been dealing with noise issues in 200 airports around the globe. The number one finding (also confirmed in nuisance studies) was that people were more irritated by the duration of the noise versus the level of noise. He pointed out that studies show that people are willing to take more noise if it is for shorter duration. I then presented him with the South Flow proposal to which he responded, "that is the worst thing you can do" since the affected people will experience noise for a very prolonged time.

The Palisades neighborhood in District of Columbia is an example that closely mirror the effects we will experience, with flights routinely flying over 5,000 feet at a commensurate distance to the community and on the other side of the river in Virginia. The flights still generate noise decibels measured at well over 65 decibels on the official Palisades noise meter, which is well over safe norms.

Due to intensified noise and condensed routes, the NEXTGEN system has been the subject of numerous lawsuits from cities, counties and states around the country, and the FAA has had to roll back several implemented NEXTGEN routes as a result of these actions. Moreover, Washington D.C. and Maryland have joined forces to combat the effects of NEXTGEN noise, but little has been said about Virginia's efforts in this area. The NEXTGEN modernization effort is becoming a zero sum game, with neighborhoods adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate being the losers, not to mention Virginia itself, since the Prince George's County representative was all but assured by the FAA at the DCA Community Noise Working Group that the NEXTGEN route was specifically intended to ensure that the planes stayed on the Virginia side of the river.

Fortunately, the FAA is conducting an environmental study prior to the routes being changed, which is why it has not been implemented. To press for urgency on this matter is not an informed and balanced position, since the environment and the Mt. Vernon estate neighborhoods deserve some consideration in the matter, especially since we have been afforded no say in the current deliberations.

Poul Hertel