FAA Says Study Found No Significant Noise Impacts to Bethesda Area with Flight Path Changes

County Council president says agency has no intention of solving noise issues causing residents' complaints

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An airplane flies over a home in Montgomery County in May 2017


The Federal Aviation has found that a change in airplane flight paths has not created more noise in the Bethesda area, according to the agency’s administrator.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta wrote that conclusion this week in response to complaints from local elected officials.

Huerta’s letter is the latest in the ongoing dispute between the federal agency and local officials who say they’ve been getting hundreds of noise complaints from residents because of flight path changes made during the past three years.

In response to Huerta’s letter, County Council President Roger Berliner wrote back that the agency failed to take into account the effect the changes would have on area residents.

“The indication that there was no impact to the residents of Potomac, Bethesda, Brookmont, Cabin John and countless other affected communities is patently false,” Berliner wrote. “It is clear that the FAA has no intention of solving the issues caused by their efforts in 2013 and 2015.”

The agency changed flight paths out of Washington Reagan National Airport as part of the NextGen nationwide effort to streamline flights to guide air traffic more precisely and efficiently.

The changes caused flights approaching and departing the airport to fly closer to Montgomery County communities, which officials said caused increasing noise complaints. In response to the complaints, Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, Reps. John Delaney and Jamie Raskin, County Executive Ike Leggett and Berliner wrote the agency in May asking for more information about how the changes were studied before they were implemented.

Huerta responded this week that prior to making the flight path changes, the FAA used noise predictive modeling for 282 days and determined the changes “would have no significant impact on the human environment, including no significant noise impacts.”

Heurta did say the agency would examine the flight paths for departing flights. He said the agency is working with a community working group to develop new northern departures “that could potentially alleviate Montgomery County community concerns.”

Berliner said the agency’s broader denial about the noise issues makes it clear the county should continue to try to pursue a legal case against the FAA.

This month, the council approved a resolution to hire a law firm to examine whether it can pursue a lawsuit against the agency to attempt to have it revert to previous flight paths. The law firm, Dentons LLP, is working with other jurisdictions on similar cases around the country.

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