Commentary: Airplane Noise Over Mount Vernon

Commentary: Airplane Noise Over Mount Vernon

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just released a report on noise complaints coming from Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in 2016. According to the noise report, DCA received 9,094 complaints from Virginia. The majority of individuals submitted only one complaint. The Alexandria portion of Fairfax County accounted for 6,473 of Virginia’s 9,094 total complaints. There are just too many planes flying over our homes, too often, at too low an altitude.

Because of a change in FAA regulations nationwide called “NextGen” to modernize air traffic routing and use GPS to streamline flight paths, extreme noise is concentrated over a single community rather than being distributed over a larger area, as was done previously with radar. Now, when planes make their westbound turn from the Potomac they are no longer turning anywhere from Belle Haven to Fort Hunt, but mostly concentrated directly over Villamay and Marlan Forest and then pass over Mason Hill, Hollin Hills, Kirkside, Bucknell and Gum Springs before getting to high enough an altitude as not to matter as much. While residents elsewhere now are experiencing some relief, the folks in these neighborhoods are under an incessant and constant virtual highway in the sky of planes taking off from DCA whenever the winds support a south flow takeoff (which is about half the time).

We have been involved with a dedicated group of our constituents, concerned citizens living under the concentrated flight path whose quality of life is severely impacted, who have come together as the South Flow Alliance, and have worked closely with the Metro Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) and the FAA to address this problem. The good news is that we have made significant progress over the last year.

We are grateful for the cooperation from the FAA and their willingness to adjust south flow departure flight patterns and altitudes. This would not be happening were it not for the hard work of the South Flow Alliance, with support from our congressman, Don Beyer, our local supervisor, Dan Storck, and state Sen. Scott Surovell, and two years of working towards a solution to what is for many of us unbearable airplane generated noise, often very early in the morning or late at night.

The FAA initiated what is called the “.41 process” for developing a new south flow departure procedure based on the Alliance’s recommendation to move the GPS waypoints to the center of the Potomac River. Additionally, the FAA has already completed one technical forum in August and will have another one in September and October, after which they will present a new south flow departure procedure to the MWAA Working Group on Oct. 27. The MWAA Working Group and the FAA will review and fine-tune the new procedure and the FAA will also complete some flight testing and assessments between November 2017 - March 2018. In April 2018, the new procedure will be finalized and the FAA will then proceed to conduct public and elected official outreach. We anticipate that the new procedure will to be implemented November 2018.

The second part of the noise problem in our districts is approach/arrival noise associated with flights to Runway 01. Unfortunately the FAA is not yet addressing arrival noise in the three technical sessions mentioned above. However, the MWAA Working Group requested the FAA provide us an assessment of what is possible to alleviate the noise from arrivals as well as a schedule to make that happen.

The consensus plan from the MWAA working group is quite detailed, but in a nutshell it would increase the altitude planes are flying at and push them toward the center of the Potomac.

It is our continued honor to serve Mount Vernon residents in the General Assembly.

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