Opposition is taking flight against new route changes proposed at Reagan National Airport as residents and multiple members of Congress raise concerns.
The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) earlier this year announced plans to adjust National Airport flight paths to avoid parts of the federal no-fly zone around D.C., to “address Secret Service concerns.” But Congressman Don Beyer (D-Va.) says the new paths means more noise.
“I hear from constituents on airplane noise issues consistently,” Beyer told ARLnow.com this weekend. “On this issue and in general, my constituents are frustrated that their concerns are not being heard and their interests not considered meaningfully by FAA, and rightly so. We must ensure that the community is involved in these decisions, which is exactly why the Community Working Group was created to begin with.”
The changes would adjust northbound departing planes at DCA’s Runway 19 to fly further westward. This would push more planes over land in Arlington — a plan residents fiercely criticized when it was first proposed three years ago, echoing long-standing concerns about the sound shaking homes and interrupting sleep as airlines switched to new navigation techniques to optimize routes, resulting in more flights early in the morning and late at night.
The FAA presented the same proposal again this past June, announcing the changes would go into effect in August to quell concerns from the Secret Service about planes zooming too close to the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. However, Beyer says the agency failed to consult the Reagan National Community Noise Working Group about the idea.
Beyer, who represents parts of Alexandria and Arlington, wrote a letter last week saying he understood the need to prevent planes from flying into federally restricted airspace, but noted that he remained “concerned about the process — specifically, the failure to give meaningful consideration to community interests — involved in a decision that will further concentrate the airplane noise in Arlington, Virginia.”
Maryland Democrats Sen. Benjamin Cardin, Sen. Chris van Hollen, and Rep. Jamie Raskin also wrote a letter this summer saying the surprise proposal represented a “failure to give meaningful consideration to community interests, the absence of an environmental review, and the negative impact” on neighborhoods.
“I join my Maryland colleagues in urging the FAA to halt implementation of the proposed changes to DCA flight procedures (both approach and departure changes) until it can demonstrate a need for these changes, as well as considering the concerns of the affected communities per the standard environmental review process,” Beyer wrote in his letter last week.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) held a series of regional meetings in October to gather public feedback on the proposed flight paths. Arlington and Montgomery County also opened bidding for a contractor who can recommend the best ways to solve the noisy dispute — after teaming up last year to fund a study on aircraft noise.
The issue over which jurisdiction should bear the brunt of the airport’s noise has at times created a tug-of-war between Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. The issue re-surfaced as some residents worry Amazon’s arrival in Arlington and the airport’s expansion project mean more flights could be added to the airport. (Last year, officials denied they have plans for additional flights.)
Raskin and Beyer are both members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Coalition, which advocates for “meaningful solutions” to aircraft noise and has previously called for DCA to limit its growth and study the impact of the noise.
Those flying in and out of Reagan National Airport on Thursday may have their travel disrupted by the July 4 festivities in D.C.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced this morning that non-emergency flight operations at DCA will be suspended from 6:15-7:45 p.m. due to military flyovers and from 9-9:45 p.m. due to fireworks.
President Trump has pushed for an Independence Day celebration “like no other” this year, and his “Salute to America” will feature demonstrations of American military might, an extended fireworks display and a presidential address.
The fireworks and flyovers — of the Navy’s Blue Angels, Air Force One and other military aircraft — will necessitate keeping commercial airliners out of the National Airport flight path for more than two hours over two no-fly periods Thursday night.
“Please check with your airline for flight information,” the FAA said.
FAA Statement: On July 4, the #FAA will suspend operations at @Reagan_Airport from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET. Operations will also be impacted from 9:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Please check with your airline for flight information. pic.twitter.com/HbLumFNuZJ
— The FAA (@FAANews) July 2, 2019
That’s not the only disruption at the airport for the Fourth. Due to construction at DCA, those hoping to watch the fireworks from nearby Gravelly Point will not be able to get there from the airport this year.
— Reagan Airport (@Reagan_Airport) July 1, 2019
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
New Census Population Estimate — “Arlington’s estimated population was up 14.4 percent from 2010 to 2018, more than double the increase statewide and nationally, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The federal government’s recently released guesstimate of Arlington’s population as of July 1, 2018, stood at 237,521, up about 1 percent from a year before.” [InsideNova]
Fraudster’s Arlington Home Sold — “The Arlington home of real estate developer Todd Hitt — who pleaded guilty in February to eight counts of fraud — has found a buyer, according to court documents. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, approved the $1.3 million sale of the 5,500-square-foot house on North Kensington Street.” [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington Working With MoCo on DCA Noise Study — “Arlington government officials plan to formalize their agreement with leaders in Montgomery County, Md., to fund a study on the northerly aircraft departure route out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The County Board plans to ante up half the projected cost for a consultant, with the Montgomery County Council putting up the other half.” [InsideNova]
County Proposes New Development Review Fee — “Arlington County staff is proposing a new fee for the acceptance and review of conceptual site plan applications, a process through which developers can get input on their projects before their formal submission.” [Washington Business Journal]
Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and other D.C.-area lawmakers are pressing for a new study of helicopter noise in the area, a persistent concern for many Arlingtonians living near the county’s copious military installations.
Beyer and four of his Democratic colleagues sent a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office Monday (Jan. 28) calling for an examination of everything from which helicopters tend to make the most noise to which neighborhoods military aircraft pass over most frequently.
“Many of our constituents live with the impacts of regular helicopter noise that interrupts sleep patterns, causes their homes to shake and negatively impacts their quality of life,” the members of Congress wrote. “While disturbances from helicopter noise have been a longstanding problem for some, others have noted recent increases in the frequency and severity of helicopter noise in their neighborhoods.”
Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.) and David Trone (D-Md.) joined Beyer in writing the letter.
In all, they argue that “information collection, analysis and coordination” will help lawmakers “identify strategies to minimize the negative impacts of helicopter activity without impeding the work of the agencies operating helicopters within the region.”
Other points they’d like to see the agency investigate include “the frequency of flights over neighborhoods, including information on each agency operating helicopters, the times of flight and flight altitude; the number of flights that occur during the day and at night” and “the altitude at which helicopters currently fly within the Washington metropolitan area today compared to the altitude at which helicopters operated within the Washington metropolitan area in the past.”
The lawmakers are also looking to learn more about “degree of coordination that currently exists among the various government and non-governmental entities operating helicopters” in the region, in order to improve efforts to cut back on noise. Beyer has previously proposed similar efforts aimed at increasing that collaboration, including a “working group” that would’ve included both local officials and representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense.
Beyer has certainly raised the issue plenty of times since winning office for the first time in 2014, and has also pressured the DOD to pursue other studies of helicopter noise, or even to simply fly its helicopters at higher altitudes to reduce noise complaints.
However, many of those efforts have been stymied by Republican leaders, who have long controlled the House of Representatives — Beyer is cautiously optimistic that the new Democratic majority will be more sympathetic to his concerns.
Beyer and his colleagues are hoping to get an answer on this latest request for a study within the next month or so.
Flickr pool photo by Jeff Sonderman
As President Trump weighs the extraordinary step of declaring a national emergency to unilaterally build a wall along the southern border, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) is urging Trump to return to the negotiating table and put federal employees back to work.
Like any member of Congress representing the D.C. suburbs, Beyer is no great fan of government shutdowns, which threaten the livelihoods of thousands of constituents in his Arlington and Alexandria-area district. But this latest, 18-day shutdown (now the second longest in the country’s history) is testing Beyer’s patience more than most.
He can’t understand what Trump hopes to achieve with his demands for $5.7 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border, or why he’s worked with Congressional Republicans to shutter the government while this latest immigration debate plays out. Unlike some of his Democratic colleagues, Beyer feels there’s room to negotiate on the issue — but he remains puzzled by the president’s refusal to engage on the matter.
“I know Donald Trump didn’t write the ‘Art of the Deal,’ but he may not have read it either,” Beyer told ARLnow. “I don’t think Democrats are against spending $5 billion more on border security, but let’s work hard on the language to make sure it turns into something that actually makes a difference, rather than something that’s a campaign symbol… Maybe I spent too many years as an auto dealer, but I’m always looking for a win-win scenario.”
Beyer believes that Democrats in Congress could well be open to reviving the outlines of a bipartisan immigration deal hashed out among leaders last year, exchanging new funding for border security for new protections for people previously protected from deportation under the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program. Yet Trump and other immigration hardliners in his party scuttled that arrangement the last time Congress squared off over the issue, and Beyer doesn’t see much reason for optimism this time around.
Furthermore, Beyer sees Trump’s intimations that he could use his emergency powers as president to bypass Congress and build the wall as “frightening.” Such an effort would undoubtedly face court challenges, as experts agree that there is no migration crisis currently afflicting the country, but speculation abounds that Trump could make an emergency declaration during his televised address from the White House tonight.
“It just ratchets up the tension and dissension far more than is appropriate,” Beyer said. “If the wall was so important, why did it take two whole years into his presidency before he put it into an appropriations bill? This is no national emergency.”
But should the shutdown continue, Beyer says his newly empowered colleagues in the House plan to “make it as easy as possible to open the government back up.” Starting today (Tuesday), he says Speaker Nancy Pelosi will begin calling votes on bills to reopen one federal agency at a time.
That way, Beyer hopes that some important staffers — like those at the IRS preparing to mail out tax returns — could get back to work, even as the immigration debate drags on.
And that sort of tack would also allow many of Beyer’s constituents to start earning paychecks again.
He says he’s heard from thousands of federal workers, both in the D.C. area and around the country, who are suffering due to financial insecurity stemming from the shutdown. To that end, Beyer managed to help pass language to protect back pay for affected employees through the House, but fears Trump wouldn’t sign off on the change, even if it clears the Senate.
Beyer’s also backing efforts to secure pay for some federal contractors, as are Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.).
“Many people go into federal service because they cherish the idea of public service,” Beyer said. “No one does it for the money. The security is one of the small benefits. Or, at least, it used to be.”
Yet Beyer feels the shutdown is doing more than just unnecessarily squeezing his constituents — he believes its distracting Congress from other pressing priorities, particularly as Democrats regain control of the House for the first time in years.
Whenever Congress can return to normal business, Beyer thinks there is room for some agreement on bills he’s backing around issues like suicide prevention and wildlife conservation.
But he is cognizant of the fact that the Republican-controlled Senate, to say nothing of Trump’s veto pen, will limit how much he can actually pass over the next two years. That’s why he’s more enthusiastic about the new oversight powers Democrats gain now that they’re chairing House committees.
Beyer helped lead investigations into former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s conduct in office, and was one of Pruitt’s leading congressional critics before he resigned under a cloud of scandal. But Beyer is no great fan of Pruitt’s replacement, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist.
Accordingly, he sees plenty of room for more EPA oversight now that Democrats will wield expanded investigatory power, though he did sound a note of caution on the topic.
“It’s really important that oversight be genuine oversight, focused on things not going well in the executive branch rather than political witch hunts,” Beyer said. “There are lots of legitimate, responsible things we can do in oversight to just make America a better country, and we can do it with Republicans.”
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders will also command more control over the federal budget, and that gives Beyer hope for progress on one of his other big priorities: solving the vexing problem of aircraft noise in Arlington.
Beyer previously proposed budget amendments directing the Federal Aviation Administration to tinker with the flight paths of military helicopters and create a new website to allow people to report aircraft noise complaints. Yet both of those failed to gain any traction under Republican leadership, and he’s holding out hope to make progress on these “two good legislative investments” in the coming months.
“With people like [Majority Leader and Maryland Rep.] Steny Hoyer in control, he’s a D.C. resident, I’m much more optimistic that we will the have power to make a difference on this,” Beyer said.
Amazon may be bringing thousands of new workers and a spate of new businesses right to the doorstep of Reagan National Airport, but don’t expect to start hearing too many more planes soaring over Arlington anytime soon.
At least, that’s the word from county leaders, airport officials and the airlines themselves. Despite the tech giant setting up shop right across from the airport in the newly dubbed “National Landing,” all parties involved believe that DCA is a bit too crowded to start welcoming passengers bound for the new headquarters.
“We’re really a constrained airport in terms of size, gate availability and runway capacity,” Andrew Trull, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, told ARLnow. “We just are not anticipating more flights heading toward Reagan.”
The potential for an increase in aircraft noise is just one of many concerns raised by county residents in the wake of Amazon’s big announcement last month, particularly because people in a variety of Arlington neighborhoods have already complained of planes bound for DCA keeping them awake at night. Reagan has also seen a surge in traffic in recent years, prompting all manner of county officials to try and take action on the issue.
But Trull points out that DCA is one of several airports around the country where the Federal Aviation Administration closely regulates how many planes pass through each year, a process known as “slot control.”
That leaves it up to Congress to determine if DCA is even allowed to welcome more aircraft in the first place, likely through an appropriations bill for the FAA. Lawmakers just passed the first such funding “reauthorization” legislation for the agency in six years this fall, and United Airlines spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs points out that Congress “rejected any changes to this important rule” governing air traffic limits at DCA in the new bill.
While Gibbs added that she believes United is “uniquely positioned to serve these communities as they capitalize on the exciting opportunities that are headed their way,” she also didn’t have any service changes to announce.
Spokespeople for both Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines, another pair of carriers offering a bevy of flights between DCA and Amazon’s Seattle home, also said the companies weren’t planning any service increases at this time. Representatives for the other airlines serving DCA didn’t respond to requests for comment.
However, that’s not to say that Amazon’s arrival won’t prompt any changes at National. Though the number of flights may not increase in the coming years, Trull said it is possible that airlines could start flying larger planes into DCA to keep pace with rising demand.
For instance, airlines could replace smaller, regional jets on certain routes with much larger planes instead, a change that Trull says would be allowed under the “slot” rules.
“We could see an increase in capacity without an increase in the number of flights,” Trull said.
Executives with American Airlines have even begun publicly discussing such a possibility in recent days, and kicked off discussions with Amazon officials about which routes employees might start choosing as the company moves to Arlington.
Of course, Trull notes that any airline looking to expand at National should consider that airport was designed to serve 15 million passengers a year, but currently welcomes about 24 million annually. That’s helped prompt the airport’s major “Project Journey” renovations, which will ultimately eliminate the infamous regional gate “35X” in favor of new, dedicated space for those flights.
“A lot of people are wondering if it will add capacity, but the answer is ‘No,'” Trull said. “We see it as an improvement to the passenger experience… because we’re already dealing with so many people.”
Instead, the biggest beneficiary of Amazon’s arrival may well be National’s sister airport: Dulles International.
Trull points out that the MWAA has specifically worked to make Dulles “more competitive” in recent years, including major renovations to the airport and the (still ongoing) extension of Metro’s Silver Line to reach Dulles. Accordingly, he sees the Loudoun airport as the region’s “primary growth airport with upside potential” now that Amazon is in town.
Gibbs adds that Dulles will indeed be the main place that United ramps up service in the coming years, particularly because it offers international flights that will likely be attractive to a global company like Jeff Bezos’ bunch.
“One of the criteria Amazon raised with us was the proximity to the airport, but also to the two other airports in this region, with that benefit of global accessibility specifically,” Alex Iams, assistant director of Arlington Economic Development, said during a Dec. 6 question-and-answer session on Amazon.
Yet Arlington still seems set to benefit from Amazon-related visitors in one key way: new hotel bookings. Even if the tech company’s staffers won’t be spurring a flurry of new business at National, county officials do project that many visitors will opt to stay near the new headquarters.
In fact, they’ve even structured the county’s incentive package for Amazon around that expectation — Arlington plans to hand the company grant money that will be drawn solely from any increase the county sees in hotel tax revenues.
“We’re going to be seeing between 125,000 and 150,000 hotel nights coming into the market each year,” said Victor Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development. “I talk to our hotel owners and they’re delighted, they can’t believe it.”
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
(Updated at 11:45 a.m) Arlington is teaming up with some of its neighbors to the north to somehow find a solution to the persistent problem of aircraft noise generated by Reagan National Airport.
County Board members Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt announced last Friday (June 1) that Arlington and Montgomery County, Maryland have agreed to both chip in funds for a consultant to study the issue starting this year.
The Board members wrote in an email that the study’s goal is “to quantify the noise impacts on our community, to determine what specifically is driving the increase in those impacts in recent years and to identify and evaluate all actions that could reasonably be taken to reduce and mitigate them.”
“Despite what look like promising recommendations for operations south of the airport, the fact remains that we do not appear to be any closer to a solution today for those communities north of the airport than we were when this effort was initiated,” Garvey and Vihstadt wrote. “It is our hope that this study will result in concrete recommendations to achieve the county’s and the region’s goal of reducing aircraft noise where possible and to equitably share it where necessary.”
County leaders have been wrestling with the issue of aircraft noise for years now, particularly as National recorded a spike in air traffic in recent years. Nearby residents have become particularly perturbed by the noise as the airport adjusted flight patterns in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s “NextGen” modernization initiative for the air traffic system in 2014.
“We continue to hear loud and clear from our residents that the noise impacts have worsened significantly since this action and have had a substantial negative impact on their quality of life,” Garvey and Vihstadt wrote.
Arlington and Montgomery County residents are not the only ones grappling with the issue. Some residential portions of Northwest D.C. have encountered an increase in noise since NextGen was implemented a few years ago, leading one District resident to file thousands of noise complaints over the course of one year.
The county has worked with the FAA on the issue since October 2015, through the “DCA Community Working Group,” and the Board members say they’ll send the results of this new study to that group once it’s wrapped up. They plan to update the community on a timetable for the study in the comings weeks, and work is set to kick off with the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) also recently proposed a series of amendments to the new FAA reauthorization bill to address the issue.
Congressman Don Beyer (D-Va.) has added several amendments to the FAA Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4) intended to reduce aircraft noise in the region.
One of the amendments would provide for soundproofing “residential buildings located on residential properties that are subject to increased perceived noise levels as a result of the NextGen initiative of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
A press release promoting the amendment did not provide further detail as to how this soundproofing would be executed, though it did note the expansion of discretionary grants to fund “noise compatibility programs” and “noise mitigation projects” in addition to soundproofing.
One of the amendments would charge the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration with developing “a noise inquiry website… to receive, track, and analyze complaints on an ongoing basis from individuals in the National Capital Region.”
There is already information on the FAA’s website about how to report complaints, however the advice generally instructs residents to either contact the FAA ombudsman or to complain directly to the airport about the alleged noise problem.
A separate amendment proposes a monthly helicopter noise abatement working group, led by the FAA and with Department of Defense officials in attendance, to “collect, correlate, and identify trends” relating to regional helicopter noise.
Another amendment seeks to “review and revise helicopter flight paths, including those used by the Department of Defense and all military helicopters, identifying and issuing new official paths for the areas in which helicopters may be able to fly at higher altitudes.”
The FAA’s official website also touches on military-related aircraft noise, noting that the agency “does not have the authority to regulate the operations of military aircraft.”
Back on January 16, Beyer held an aircraft noise community forum in Fairlington to discuss the issue with a few dozen attendees.
“It is frightening, it is often daily, and it is very disruptive to my life,” one woman said at the forum, adding that the noise upsets her pets and rattles her windows.
More from the press release:
Rep. Don Beyer today offered a series of amendments to H.R. 4, the FAA Reauthorization Act, designed to mitigate the effects of aircraft noise on communities in the National Capital Region.
“Hundreds of my constituents have expressed to me their frustrations with the slow pace of change prompted by their input to government authorities about aircraft noise,” said Rep. Beyer. “This problem isn’t getting better quickly enough. Northern Virginians have been patient, but there is more that can be done to reduce the toll taken by noisy aircraft on our community.”
He offered two amendments related to airplane noise which would expand discretionary grants which fund noise compatibility programs, noise mitigation projects, and soundproofing of houses in affected communities.
Additionally, Beyer will throw his full support behind an amendment to the same legislation offered by Rep. Barbara Comstock, which would block the expansion of flight slots in the region’s airports, increasing the quantity of flights and the resulting noise from aircraft.
Beyer also offered two amendments based on feedback from constituents presented during his Fairlington town hall on helicopter noise in January. One amendment would require the FAA to review helicopter flight paths, including Department of Defense and all other military helicopters, to find areas where they may fly at higher altitudes to reduce noise for communities below.
The other would require the FAA to set up a noise inquiry website using data from local airports, and to establish a helicopter noise abatement working group to look for ways to reduce helicopter noise in the region.
What would it be like to skydive in highly-restricted airspace over Arlington and the Pentagon?
A new video gives us a first-person perspective on just that. The GoPro-style video shows the skydivers who swooped down from above as part of a demonstration before the Marine Corps Marathon this past weekend.
Multiple expert skydivers landed in a small strip of land between the runners and Arlington National Cemetery as tens of thousands of runners watched and applauded.
‘Meeting Bowls’ Coming to Courthouse — A new, temporary public art installation is coming to Courthouse. Workers will be building 5-foot high “meeting bowls,” designed by the Spanish art collective “mmmm….,” and featuring an 8-foot long circular bench inside. The bowls, which are meant to be used by passersby, are expected to be completed by Monday, July 17 and will remain in place until November. [Washingtonian]
Pentagon City Residents Peeved by Shopping Carts — Legions of stray shopping carts are getting on the nerves of Pentagon City residents, NBC 4’s Julie Carey reported during a news broadcast last night. [NBC Washington, Twitter]
Scholarships Awarded to Wakefield Students — “The Wakefield High School Education Foundation recently awarded 27 scholarships totaling $201,000, bringing the total number of scholarships presented over the history of the foundation to 400 and the total dollar amount of scholarships and teacher grants to more than $2.25 million.” [InsideNova]
Local Author Pens New Thriller — Arlington resident Bill Schweigart, author of the Beast of Barcroft, a supernatural thriller set in Arlington, has penned another book of local interest: The Devil’s Colony, which features a fictional Arlington resident as its main character. [Penguin Random House]
Nearby: Montgomery Co. Consider Plane Noise Suit — Montgomery County, Maryland has hired a law firm to explore legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration in response to new flight paths that have produced a dramatic increase in aircraft noise complaints. The flight paths were implemented in 2015 as part of the FAA’s NextGen system and have prompted some complaints in Arlington and D.C. as well. [Bethesda Beat]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
The Federal Aviation Administration is scrapping a proposal to shift the northerly flight path from Reagan National Airport closer to Rosslyn, according to Rep. Don Beyer’s office.
The FAA sought feedback on the plan during a public meeting at Washington-Lee High School in September. The plan, which was intended to reduce noise in the Foxhall Village neighborhood of D.C. while placing flights more directly over the Potomac River, was met with skepticism from Arlington residents. County Board members pointed out that aircraft noise in Arlington was already on the rise under the current flight path.
Rep. Beyer (D-Va.) sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in October, outlining “serious concerns with many aspects of the plan.” The congressman hailed the FAA’s decision to terminate the proposed changes.
“Today’s decision by the FAA to terminate the proposed… departure procedure is a positive development in our ongoing quest to quiet the skies over northern Virginia,” Beyer said in a statement. “While the proposed path was intended to increase flight time over the Potomac River, it was significantly concerning that there was no clear understanding on the level and impact of plane noise on airport area communities.”