Federal officials appear deaf to residents’ complaints about airplane noise in the Mount Vernon area.
On Monday, Sept. 10, Mike Rioux, the Mount Vernon representative to the Metro Washington Airports Authority Reagan National Airport Community Working Group, once again briefed the community on the status of efforts to address the airplane noise situation. His last presentation to the community was in May of this year. So far progress made in understanding and conveying the reasons behind the concentration of noise over the Mount Vernon District and parts of other areas has not translated into action by the FAA or individual airlines.
Notably, action by federal representatives has been largely absent. According to Rioux, letters by him and others to federal elected officials have not been acknowledged much less responded to. Requests for help to remedy what is now a quality of life impact for many residents have been unanswered. The exception is U.S. Don Beyer (D-8), and state Del. Paul Krizek, state Sen. Adam Ebbin and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck. Frequency of Reagan National flights are estimated to be between 4,000-5,000 daily, depending on who you ask.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) influences flight patterns and the implementation of new NextGen technology has concentrated flight paths. In contrast the previous radar-based technology spread the flight patterns out over a wide area. The new technology that was implemented in a 2012 law, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, mandating NextGen procedures, was not discussed with residents, according to local residents in Mount Vernon.
In addition, air traffic at Reagan National has increased because of convenience to travelers and the policy of “slot control” which makes it more cost effective for airlines to fly into Reagan National Airport.
Complaints from northern Virginia residents most directly affected by extreme noise have thus far had minimal impact beyond the creation of a working group and creation of the South Flow outreach organization. This has gone on now since 2015 when the new technology began to be used. Increased airline traffic at Reagan and NextGen technology, touted for its safety features, has created the noise problem, and it is getting worse.
Action has been taken by Rioux and his local allies to advance the effort. Local citizen advocates Bob Myer and Judith Lean worked to successfully file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for NextGen flight data that has now armed South Flow Alliance (SFA) participants with information from the FAA’s own data. This in turn has encouraged Rioux and SFA to make a series of recommendations to change flight patterns to more closely follow flights that track over the Potomac river at increased flight elevations in addition to other recommendations.
Despite the evidence of adverse consequences of continuing on the present low level flight paths and frequencies, Rioux believes that federal representatives and the FAA don’t appear to take the problem serious enough to make the changes in a timely way.
Maryland, affected by noise in the Baltimore and Accokeek, and Prince George's county areas have filed a noise-related lawsuit against the FAA which for now has resulted in slowing or even freezing action by the FAA on the Maryland side until the lawsuit has been settled.
Rioux believes that Northern Virginia’s noise issues can be more effectively settled without a lawsuit. He also believes that, with the active support of federal representatives and an all-out mobilization effort by affected residents, changes can be realized in the near future.