FAA Delays New Landing Procedures at National Airport

FAA Delays New Landing Procedures at National Airport

Potomac, Bethesda residents bothered by jet noise continue to press for changes in landing paths

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Scott Jung lives in Bethesda's Brookmont neighborhood and hears planes over his house in intervals of between five and 15 minutes

Dan Schere

The Federal Aviation Administration is delaying proposed changes to airplane landing procedures at National Airport that have brought an outcry from some Potomac and Bethesda residents over jet noise.

The new procedures, known as “GPS arrival” would mandate that airplanes fly along a fixed course, with pilots using a series of geographic waypoints to guide them, which would mean more concentrated noise that comes with an increase in the number of planes.

The FAA’s decision follows resident complaints and a meeting FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell and a regional FAA administrator had with several Maryland congressional leaders this week.

“We emphasized that public communication, consultation and participation are essential in this process,” wrote Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who represents most of Montgomery County.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen wrote that he had been pushing the FAA to reduce excessive noise “for years” because it is “compromising the quality of life for our constituents.”

“Families across the region have spoken out about the issue, and we made sure Acting Administrator Elwell heard directly from us about those concerns,” the Democratic senator wrote.

The FAA announced last month at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s community noise working group meeting that the new landing procedures would be implemented in August due to concerns from the Secret Service that planes were flying too close to the White House and several monuments on the National Mall, which are in restricted airspace.

At Thursday night’s airport working group meeting, FAA Manager for Airspace, Environmental and Community Outreach Deb Hogan said she had “a lot of emotions” after the last working group meeting, and she was committed to ensuring that an alternative landing path is less intrusive.

Paul Janes, one of the Montgomery representatives on the working group, noted that his county and Arlington, Virginia have formed a partnership to hire an airspace consultant to advise the FAA.

“My worry is that if we don’t get this set up with a decent strategy, we won’t get it done. And we’ll be back here in 2020 talking about this again,” he said.

Hogan noted the physical challenges of landing airplanes at the airport, which is the closest to the District.

“We have security. We have a lot of constraints. We don’t have a lot of pastures. We have monuments and a very small river …This is hard. It’s not easy for you and it’s not easy for us,” she said.

Another member of the working group said he was concerned that the Secret Service could nix the group’s plans by bringing in their own concerns.

“There’s no point of us spinning our wheels, coming up with something the Secret Service isn’t going to go with,” he said.

Residents such as Scott and Pam Jung, who live in Bethesda’s Brookmont neighborhood, within a mile of the Potomac River, say they have been frustrated with the process. The Jungs hear planes over their house roughly every five to 15 minutes depending on the weather and the time of day.

“It’s frustrating that they could just kind of stonewall us without studying this,” said Scott.

During one evening earlier this month, 16 planes passed over the Jung’s house in the course of an hour, which they said was fewer than usual. Pam Jung said she is often awakened at 2 a.m. by airplane noise, and that when they have dinner guests, the sound of an overhead plane is enough for everyone to pause.

“It stops you in terms of conversation,” she said.

Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center and a member of the working group, said he is pleased that the landing changes have been delayed and hopes the 20,000 or so residents who live in Montgomery’s affected communities will have more say in the process.

“Last month, everything they had previously told us was a sham. Now I’m a little bit more encouraged,” he said.

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

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