2019 | Government

Quiet Skies Group Leveraging Political Resources to Fight Airport Flight Patterns

Frosh, Van Hollen say they are alarmed by FAA’s new arrival procedure

The arrow indicates the new defined flight path to be used by airplanes landing at National Airport. The green represents the Potomac River.

Dan Schere

The Montgomery Quiet Skies Coalition, a group that includes Potomac and Cabin John residents, is taking its fight against the Federal Aviation Administration to the political arena.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced last week that it was considering new arrival landing procedures at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that could mean more planes and noise along the flight path to the Arlington, Virginia airport.

The procedure would differ from others, such as a “river visual approach” where pilots use the Potomac River as a guide for landing, and rely on satellite global positioning technology.

The changes, which could potentially go into effect Aug. 15, came in response to concerns from the Secret Service that too many planes were entering restricted airspace that surrounds the White House, National Mall and other monuments in the District of Columbia.

Thursday’s meeting of the citizens group, held at the Carderock Springs Swim and Tennis Club in Bethesda, was attended by a number of politicians or their representatives, including state Sen. Susan Lee, a Democrat who represents Bethesda, and staff members from the offices of state delegates Marc Korman and Sara Love, Democrats who represent Bethesda, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin and County Council member Andrew Friedson, whose district represents Bethesda

The meeting came the same day that Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh wrote a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell, saying that he was “troubled” by the agency’s new flight procedures proposal, particularly since it was done without taking its environmental impact into account.

“The area that would be affected by the proposal is rife with parks, protected areas, historic sites, and other noise sensitive uses and residential areas, and it is clear that it would be inappropriate for the agency to rely upon a Categorical Exclusion. These circumstances warrant preparation of an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. We would, furthermore, expect a transparent process with public involvement and opportunity for comment,” Frosh wrote.

Frosh has sued the FAA about its flight path procedures for National Airport, as well as those at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

At Thursday’s meeting, group president Anne Hollander suggested trying to acquire state funding for a study that would examine the health impacts from the flight procedure changes. She said a similar study was done in Queens, New York, in response to proposed flight path changes, and the changes ended up not taking place.

Lee said she was monitoring the situation “very closely,” and was in contact with the attorney general. She added that a bill at the state level opposing the flight path changes would “be the strongest thing” because it would “show that we’re unified.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen wrote in a statement Friday morning that he planned to meet with the FAA to discuss the most recent controversy.

“I am deeply concerned both by the FAA’s latest proposal for DCA flight traffic and its decision to blindside the community,” he wrote.

Montgomery and Arlington County, Virginia, have already forged a joint partnership at a cost of $125,000 each, to hire an aerospace consultant who can propose an alternative flight plan to the FAA.

County Executive Marc Elrich, in an interview at a groundbreaking ceremony earlier Thursday in Bethesda, said there isn’t much the county can do beyond the aerospace study.

“We’ve had a role. We’ve provided money. We’re going to do what we can do. We don’t have any authority. I have zero authority in this,” he said.

Hollander, in an interview following the meeting, said the FAA has told them in the past that they would follow recommendations made by a consultant.

Asked whether the neighbors’ opposition to the airplane noise was a case of NIMBYism, an acronym that stands for “Not In My Backyard,” Hollander said many who don’t live in the affected areas “don’t understand the nature of this problem.”

“Everybody in the D.C. metropolitan area flies in and out of the airport, and the costs to the community shouldn’t all be imposed on one party,” she said.

An FAA spokesperson wrote in an email that the agency had “heard the concerns voiced by the community and is currently evaluating them.”

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com