November 17, 2017
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52° Scattered Clouds

Citizens Make Some Noise Over BWI Flight Patterns

Zach Sparks
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October 19, 2017

Roundtable Of Leaders Persuades Hogan To Challenge FAA

Tom Bowen remembers when he first started waking late in the night, in 2016, not from a nightmare or a chill but from an irritating noise: planes soaring overhead.

“The traffic over my house has increased tenfold,” said Bowen, a Sillery Bay resident. “Whether it’s midnight or 5:30 in the morning, it’s just like there is a road over my house.”

Bowen is not alone. The airport noise issue dates back to 2014, when Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and other airports across the country implemented the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) computerized traffic control system NextGen at the behest of Congress. Designed to reduce fuel consumption and shorten flight times, the satellite-based technology has also resulted in lower flight paths concentrated in narrower regions, meaning relentless noise for aggravated civilians from Chicago to New York to Pasadena.

“It makes you angry that somebody decided for you to disrupt your life. You didn’t get input,” said Linda Curry, chair of the Greater Severna Park Council’s airport noise committee. “The constant noise, the vibrations – whether you’re sitting in your backyard, which is the example everybody gives, or having a conversation at the dinner table – it shakes.”

The Maryland Aviation Administration maintains a 24-hour airport noise hotline. According to quarterly noise reports, 266 complaints from 180 callers were made in 2013. Those numbers jumped to 2,694 complaints from 778 callers in 2016.

Bowen didn’t like the “patronizing” responses he got when he attended a 2016 community meeting at Lindale Middle School in Linthicum. “They told me the planes are flying at 5,000 feet,” Bowen said. “At 5,000 feet, I shouldn’t see the windows of planes.”

Distraught, residents of Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties formed the DC Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable in March 2017. An entity of the Maryland Aviation Administration, the roundtable consisted of about 15 legislator-appointed community members along with representatives from each of the three aforementioned county executive offices.

Fast forward to fall 2017 and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta had failed to offer what Governor Larry Hogan deemed an appropriate solution to criticisms of noise at BWI and Reagan International Airport. In September, Hogan urged Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to sue the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“The program has made many Maryland families miserable in their own homes with louder and more frequent flights which now rattle windows and doors,” Hogan wrote in a letter to Frosh. “As elected leaders of this state, we cannot allow this situation to stand.”

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman wrote to Frosh on September 19 and 20, respectively, encouraging the attorney general to file the lawsuit. These actions came after the Anne Arundel County Council passed a resolution on September 5, urging the FAA to return to pre-NextGen flight paths.

Jesse Chancellor, an Ellicott City resident who serves on the DC Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable, said a lawsuit is a last resort and he would rather see BWI return to a facsimile of the old flight paths.

“We as citizens were asked to solve a highly technical problem that we didn’t create,” said Chancellor, who began meeting with other residents of Howard County in April 2016, before a local roundtable was formed. “For homeowners and communities to understand the problem when this massive change was never communicated to them, and the clock is ticking on a lawsuit – I don’t think Howard and Anne Arundel counties have ever faced something like this.”

Asked why the FAA cannot revert to old flight paths, FAA officials deferred to Huerta’s letter to Hogan in August.

“The original procedures, flight paths and altitudes are no longer published on navigational charts or loaded onto aircraft navigation computers,” Huerta wrote. “These procedures are also no longer maintained in our procedures inventory.”

Residents have also asked that the FAA mandate aircrafts to fly at higher altitudes, but any change, according to the FAA, requires training air traffic controllers and pilots, and adapting software and automated systems on the aircrafts.

For those reasons, FAA expects a review of short-term operational changes and long-term procedural changes to take a minimum of 18-24 months.

Roundtable members are encouraged that Anne Arundel County is not facing an unprecedented battle. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in August that Phoenix had valid complaints against the FAA and its flight paths over Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. That case was won in part because of environmental concerns and inadequate community notice, although the FAA is expected to file an appeal of the decision.

Asked whether the Maryland roundtable’s advocacy would just push the problem from one group of civilians to another, Curry was emphatic in her response.

“Whatever decision they come up with, it has to benefit all of us or we won’t do it,” Curry said. “We’re not going to move the problem from Elkridge to Columbia or from Severna Park to Glen Burnie.”

Frosh has not yet decided whether he will pursue a lawsuit against the FAA. To learn more about the roundtable’s progress, follow the “BWI – Too Loud, Too Low, Too Frequent” Facebook page. The roundtable hopes for higher flight altitudes to decrease noise, but long term, they hope for more.

“They always say that you can’t fight city hall,” Bowen said, “but I have to try.”


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