FAA Proposes Landing Procedure Change that Could Mean More Jet Noise in Bethesda Area

FAA Proposes Landing Procedure Change that Could Mean More Jet Noise in Bethesda Area

County official says agency  has “completely sidestepped” local working group

| Published:

The new proposed flight path for arriving planes into National Airport

Courtesy of Ken Hartman

The Federal Aviation Administration, at a meeting Thursday night, proposed a new procedure for landing airplanes at Reagan National Airport that could mean increased noise for residents who live in Bethesda, Potomac and Cabin John neighborhoods close to the Potomac River.

The FAA decided to adopt a “GPS” procedure for arrivals into the airport, meaning that planes will follow the same exact path according to a computer, with no variation. The decision was made to address concerns from the U.S. Secret Service that airplanes were flying too close to the Lincoln Memorial, which is restricted airspace under FAA rules.

Montgomery County residents have experienced an increase in airplane noise since 2015, when the FAA changed flight paths to reduce fuel costs, by creating “super highways” or streamlined flight patterns. Noise was less concentrated under the old system, which spread the planes over a wider area.

Thursday night’s meeting at National Airport was convened by the airport’s community noise working group, which was established in 2015 to address noise concerns. The group includes Montgomery, Arlington and District of Columbia officials along with representatives from the FAA and the airlines.

Ken Hartman, the director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, and a member of the working group, said FAA and Secret Service representatives were present at Thursday night’s meeting. He said it was clear the two parties had made an agreement before the meeting began.

“It was an absolute and utter setup by the FAA,” he said. “They completely sidestepped the working group. The working group was very upset. We had members from Fairfax County, saying ‘why are we here?’”

Hartman said the GPS landing procedure will involve the pilot turning navigation over to a computer, which will then guide the aircraft into a landing according to pre-determined geographic positioning points. The procedure is already in place for departures from the airport.

“There will no longer be any variation If you’re unlucky enough to be in a neighborhood that’s under the superhighway,” he said.

An FAA official present at the meeting told Bethesda Beat Friday morning said Secret Service officials had brought their concerns to them last year, but the FAA couldn’t discuss them publicly or with the working group because they “go to issues of national security.” The official said between 2012 and 2018, the number of airplanes cutting into restricted airspace jumped from 33 to 57, and a per-month average of 2.75 to 4.75.

The official s explained that the restricted airspace includes the National Mall, White House and national monuments.

“We proposed a change to that route that would take aircraft further away,” he said.

The FAA official said the agency has no timeline for when it will make a decision on changes to  the arrival route.

“We heard the concerns of the DCA working group and are taking them under advisement,” he said.

Hartman said he is under the impression that the changes will begin in August.

The flight paths at National Airport has been the subject of a lawsuit brought by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh against the FAA in the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit. That lawsuit also challenges the FAA’s new flight paths in and out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Additionally, Montgomery and Arlington counties forged a joint agreement last year to hire a contractor to study ways to evaluate and mitigate effects from the increased plane noise. Each county has allocated $125,000 for the study. Bethesda resident Janelle Wright, who leads the Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition, said the study will help find “viable alternatives such as procedures that would avoid residential and sensitive areas, or avoid traversing the same flight path 100% of the time.”

“Since December of 2015, approximately 20,000 Montgomery County residents have been forced to endure nonstop air traffic over their homes, schools and parks,” she wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat.

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

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