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Peter’s Take: Civic Leaders Collaborate on Aircraft Noise in Arlington

Peter RousselotPeter’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

In an earlier column, I summarized efforts by Arlington’s civic and elected leaders, including Rep. Don Beyer (D-8) and County Board members Katie Cristol, John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey, to identify solutions to address the problem of increasing aircraft noise in Arlington.

Since 2015, the region has had a growing problem with aircraft noise caused in part by changes to the regional airspace enabled by the FAA’s precise NextGen program.

New Developments

Arlington civic leaders continue to collaborate on this problem. County Board liaisons Vihstadt and Garvey, together with Arlington Civic Association leaders and staff of Representative Beyer, convened at a September 12 meeting chaired by Vihstadt, to discuss these topics:

  • Citizen complaints as the FAA continues to route flights directly over Arlington neighborhoods, with no consensus on remedies within the designated regional noise working group. (Past FAA plans for quieter flights over the Potomac River, were rebuffed by Rosslyn interests, among others.)
  • Senior Maryland officials’ letter to the FAA complaining about noise over Montgomery County neighborhoods, requesting that pre-NextGen flight paths be restored. The FAA rejected this request, and Gov. Larry Hogan has directed his Attorney General to sue the FAA.
  • Phoenix, Ariz. sued the FAA for failing to collaborate with Phoenix before implementing their NextGen flight paths. On August 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. ruled for Phoenix. A concurring judge noted that the FAA should avoid historically-designated neighborhoods and parks in determining flight paths. (Potomac Overlook Park in Arlington is directly under the current flight paths.)
  • Georgetown is suing the FAA to push flight paths away from their location, and thus further towards Arlington.
  • Continued efforts by Beyer to successfully hold the line on number and length of flights, while seeking results from a 65dB noise study, which would use actual data from FAA monitors at noise levels below those currently allowed at night at DCA.

Next Steps

The group that convened on September 12 recognized the difficulty of seeking changes at Reagan National Airport (DCA) in view of powerful airline interests that would oppose some of the ideas discussed, but nevertheless advocated that some or all the following ideas be pursued:

  • Increasing the fines paid by airlines violating the current nighttime noise limits at DCA, and indexing the fines to future inflation. The current maximum $5,000 fine was established more than 30 years ago, and the total fines paid in 2016 were an extremely modest $140,000. Fine revenue could be used to compensate Dulles airport for lowering its relatively high fees on any flights from within the DCA perimeter of allowed flight distances, thus encouraging Dulles use and decreasing DCA use — an existing goal of Virginia.
  • Requiring aircraft to fly at higher altitudes on departure and arrival.
  • Allocating the slots at DCA first to the quietest aircraft and last to the noisiest, thus encouraging the earlier adoption of quieter Level 5 engine technology.
  • Seeking a letter comparable to the Maryland letter from our U.S. Senators and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, to complement Rep. Beyer’s efforts. This letter might request that FAA employ more naturally-dispersed flight paths by using precise NextGen navigation.
  • Designating DCA as a model airport to validate the most useful noise abatement concepts for potential adoption in other urbanized areas.


The next meeting of the group that met on September 12 is scheduled to occur in mid-November.

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