Potomac area residents say they have cause to hope they can rid their neighborhoods of aircraft noise with an upgrade in flight GPS technology.
The frequent noise from commercial flights led residents to organize and ask the County to do something about the noise from planes landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington County.
While the County has previously considered a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration, in this year’s budget it may consider a different approach – choosing to hire an outside aviation expert to help convince the FAA to change its flight patterns.
“It’s analogous to putting an eight-lane freeway through an existing neighborhood – it’s really the same thing,” said Council President Hans Riemer (D-at large).
Riemer along with Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), who represents Bethesda and Potomac in his district, said they support the County hiring an aviation subject expert that could help design a new path for planes to fly. The expert would cost the County approximately $150,000.
The issue has affected residents mostly in neighborhoods in Potomac and Bethesda adjacent to the Potomac River. While planes have always flown over the parts of the County along the Potomac River in their approach into Reagan National, they typically never shared one specifically concentrated route, meaning some planes would fly over the Potomac River, parts of Northwest D.C. or Northern Virginia, as they descended into Reagan National.
Now thanks to an upgrade in GPS technology for airplanes that presets a path into Reagan National, most flights descending into Reagan National fly directly over parts of Potomac and Bethesda disturbing residents.
Cabin John resident Bill Noonan said planes are constantly flying over his house at a low altitude, saying it has disrupted his home life with his family.
“I cannot sleep and it’s gotten to the point to where I have had to, you know, move down to the basement of my house because it’s quieter down there,” Noonan, a member of the Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition said.
Beginning in 2012, the FAA started pushing for optimized profile descents, which allow for a smoother and more fuel-efficient landing. While traditional pilots would wait for air traffic controllers to help guide them through the descent, perhaps taking a slightly different route into the airport each time, new GPS technology has helped pre-select routes for pilots to use for their descent. These routes with more frequency have been over the western parts of Montgomery County along the Potomac River, where some neighborhoods are experiencing 400 airline jets flying low as the descend toward Reagan National.
While last summer the County announced plans to hire outside legal counsel to possible sue the FAA over the noise from the flights over portions of the Western County, the County dropped a possible lawsuit as Gov. Larry Hogan (R) instructed Attorney General Brian Frosh to sue the FAA about noise pollution for flights coming into both Reagan National and Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Noonan, who serves on an elected advisory committee consisting of residents from around the Washington Metropolitan Region said the FAA is open to changing the flight plans into Reagan National, and said an expert could help convince representatives from the FAA to change the flight plan into Reagan.
While neighborhoods in the Western County have had to deal with planes flying low over residents’ houses, Noonan said he just wants to reduce the frequency by sharing the burden of noise with other neighborhoods in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.
“The way to solve this problem is to figure out some way to reintroduce dispersion so that the burden is shared,” he said.