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Peter’s Take: Thanks, Don Beyer, For Help on Aircraft Noise

Peter Rousselot

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. 

As ARLnow.com previously reported, Representative Don Beyer’s office announced earlier this month that the FAA had scrapped a proposal to transition to a new departure procedure for northbound planes leaving National Airport. The proposed path, known as “LAZIR B,” would direct flights directly over Rosslyn, moving planes further away from Georgetown and restricted airspace around the National Mall.

The problem LAZIR B created

The region has had a growing problem with noise caused in part by recent changes to the regional airspace mandated by the FAA’s NextGen program. In October 2015, a Community Noise Working Group was established with appointees representing communities in Virginia, DC and Maryland. In December 2015, the group recommended the LAZIR B departure procedure to maximize flight time over the Potomac.

How Don Beyer helped

Following the working group’s recommendation, Rep. Beyer wrote a letter to the FAA asking for a more thorough analysis of the noise impacts, and telephoned the FAA Administrator to voice his concerns with the proposed flight path.

Rep. Beyer also was a leader in the effort to find new ways for Arlington citizens to provide feedback directly to the FAA about the increased noise levels they were experiencing. He helped facilitate communication between airport area neighborhoods, local government, and the FAA.

As part of this new community engagement process, the FAA held a September 2016 workshop at Washington-Lee High School to listen to Arlington citizens. At the workshop, Arlingtonians explained their frustrations. Some questioned why Arlington should be subject to more noise so that D.C. residents could have more peace and quiet.

How Arlington County Board members helped

Rep. Beyer certainly doesn’t deserve all the credit for the FAA scrapping LAZIR B. The Arlington County Board also deserves credit. Board members Libby Garvey, Katie Cristol, and John Vihstadt attended the community meeting at W-L, and Garvey wrote a letter to the FAA on behalf of the County Board, expressing concerns about aircraft noise in Arlington:

Arlington County firmly believes that improvements for both those on the ground and the flying public are possible and necessary,” the letter says. However, “it does not seem reasonable to the County that local communities, who are not experts on the needs, constraints and opportunities with regards to aviation, should be tasked with solving this problem.

Rep. Beyer and his regional colleagues in Congress worked collaboratively with the County Board to make FAA more responsive to community concerns.

The flaws exposed in NextGen

All this heightened public scrutiny of NextGen exposed a serious problem. Although its goal for NextGen was to improve efficiency, the FAA used what many consider to be a flawed procedure to estimate the likely noise impacts of the flight-path changes NextGen produced. While the FAA did perform an environmental review of the new flight path, noise impact testing was done through modeling, rather than through in-field testing, without using an agreed upon established baseline noise level.

Conclusion

A much more extensive review of Rep. Beyer’s leadership on these issues can be found here.

As is evident from its decision to scrap LAZIR B, FAA now is listening to and considering community input. This would not have happened without Rep. Beyer’s leadership. Moving forward, the FAA working group will continue to evaluate proposed changes.

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