Press Club
Visitors to Gravelly Point watch as an airplane comes in for a landing at Reagan National Airport (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated, 4:05 p.m.) As a new aircraft noise study comes in for a landing, Arlington officials admit there remains little the county can actually do about the noise above.

“I know how frustrating this is. I think people don’t understand how little power we actually have,” says Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey. “We really have almost zip.”

They’re not hopeful they can get the Federal Aviation Administration on board with changes, such as shifting National Airport’s flight patterns to less populated areas. A work group plans to ask the agency to shift incoming planes away from more developed areas and is expected to recommend doing the same for departures.

For years, residents have complained about aircraft noise, resulting from the flight patterns in and out of National Airport as well as Pentagon-bound helicopters. It’s gotten marginally worse in recent years after the FAA adjusted flight patterns to push flight paths further west, away from D.C., due to the Secret Service’s concerns about commercial flights encroaching into federal no-fly zones (Prohibited Area 56). The new patterns resulted in complaints among Arlington residents who live close to the Potomac River, including those in Rosslyn.

In 2019, the Arlington County Board sent a letter to the FAA expressing its “strong opposition” to the changes while accusing the federal agency of not engaging with the community and doing something that is “quite possibly in violation of federal law.”

“Aircraft noise is a real thing,” Arlington County Board Member Takis Karantonis tells ARLnow. “It’s a quality of life issue for many Arlingtonians who live under or near flight paths.”

Aircraft noise impact from flights to and from DCA (via FAA)

In May 2019, Arlington agreed to jointly fund a study with Montgomery County that would recommend to the FAA ways to reduce aviation noise and limit the impact on residents.

Now, after nearly three years, the “Aircraft Noise Mitigation Study” is reaching its conclusion.

The biggest takeaway is that the study recommends diverting flight paths in and out of National Airport so that fewer people are living directly under them. That means prioritizing noise reduction in more dense and populated areas, as well as “noise sensitive residential areas,” to the extent possible. The study also looked at how takeoff speed, trajectory, and height impact noise.

Last summer, new flight paths for incoming flights were proposed and, just this past December, departing flights were discussed. In addition to shifting paths, a recommendation was made for departures to be split into multiple segments so that there would be a “more equitable distribution of noise.”

The incoming flight paths were approved by DCA Community Working Group, which operates under the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), and the departure paths will be reviewed in April.

It’s expected those recommendations, with possibly a few tweaks, will be approved and proposed to the FAA. But officials are skeptical of whether the FAA and federal agencies take them into consideration.

“Arlington County against the federal government is kind of a little unbalanced in terms of a power setup,” Garvey said, echoing what she said at last week’s recessed Board meeting.

That’s one of the reasons Arlington partnered with Montgomery County on the aircraft noise study, so that two jurisdictions could come together with credible data to ask the FAA and Secret Service to make changes.

The counties are also in talks with D.C. and other local jurisdictions to apply more pressure to the federal agencies. But she understands why some residents may feel like just doing a study is not enough.

“Our residents who are frustrated with the noise see nothing [being done] and they’d like us to sue the FAA or something like that,” says Garvey. “I understand the desire to do that, but that actually would be very counterproductive and not actually get us anywhere.”

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An airplane overhead, as seen from Gravelly Point (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

With the opening of a new concourse at Reagan National Airport, aircraft noise above Arlington remains at a high volume and the region is still studying ways to mitigate the roar.

Resident complaints about noises overhead have been constant for years, due to the flight patterns into National Airport and Pentagon-bound helicopters. Most of complaints are from those who live near the Potomac River, which is the general flight path of most jets arriving and departing the airport.

Last week, at the official celebration for the opening of DCA’s new concourse, Congressman Don Beyer bid “good riddance” to the infamous Gate 35X, assuring residents the new gate won’t exacerbate noise.

“While the new facilities will improve the passenger experience, this will not lead to increased flights or aircraft noise, a frequent concern in the region,” he later said in a tweet. “And I will continue the work to mitigate aircraft noise in our area!”

This year, several separate studies and reports have floated potential solutions to quieting the skies. One study, commissioned by Arlington County and Montgomery County, is ongoing, as the scope shifts from inbound to outbound aircraft.

The joint study advised in April to reroute incoming aircraft so they increasingly fly over the Potomac River instead of “residential and noise-sensitive areas.”

The recommendations were made to the Reagan National Community Noise Working Group (CWG), which operates under the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).

CWG in turn passed them onto the Federal Aviation Administration, though it remains unclear if and when the FAA will act on the suggestions.

The conclusions and process have upset some residents of North Arlington neighborhoods located near the river. During public comments at the Sept. 18 County Board meeting, Chain Bridge Forest resident Alice Doyle said the altered flight paths would cause her and neighbors to bear the brunt of noise.

“To be clear, this means that neighborhoods like Chain Bridge Forest and Arlingwood that sit near the Chain Bridge not only see zero relief from airplane noise, we will now see and hear even more flights overhead,” she said. “The flight disturbance over our homes is almost constant with occasional periods of relief. Under this plan, those much needed moments of noise relief will disappear. ”

She also criticized the county for being “half tuned into the process” and not having enough representatives at the CWG meeting.

County Board member Libby Garvey responded that she understood Doyle’s concerns, but said the report recommends shifting the flight patterns to lessen the burden on Arlington’s more populated areas.

She reiterated in federal issues such as this one, the best county officials can do is to make recommendations.

Now, the joint study has a new focus: departing flights, Arlington County spokeswoman Bryna Helfer tells ARLnow.

“Technical work on new draft procedures for north-flow departures is currently the focus of the study and a community meeting to present those draft procedures will be scheduled before the end of 2021,” she wrote in an email.

In 2018, Arlington and Montgomery counties agreed to split the $250,000 cost of the study, which was officially launched in 2020. For the departing flights study, Arlington paid an additional $50,000, and Montgomery an additional $100,000, Helfer said.

CWG will meet again next Thursday, Oct. 28.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Defense also completed studies this year. The GAO report from September recommends the FAA use easier-to-understand noise metrics.

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Don’t be surprised if you see helicopters and some small planes flying around the D.C. area this morning — it’s all part of a military training exercise.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) says the air defense exercise will be conducted between 11 a.m. and noon. It will involve Coast Guard helicopters and general aviation aircraft — often smaller prop planes.

“Portions of the exercise may… be visible from the ground,” NORAD said in a social media post.

Flickr pool photo by J. Sonder

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Nilah Williamson, the Yorktown High School senior who was recently featured on Good Morning America for pursuing a pilot’s license before a driver’s license, will be attending the U.S. Naval Academy next fall.

Williamson said she wants to major in chemistry, a field that she is passionate about. After four years in labs, however, she plans to go to flight school, returning to the cockpit and trading in her goggles for a pilot’s uniform.

The teen said she hopes the pilot’s license that she is pursuing will give her a leg up in flight school.

You compete for a slot at flight school and you compete for an aircraft,” she said. “You have to be at the top of your class.” 

After passing her written test this September, Williamson started flight practice. She needs at least 40 hours of flight time, culminating in a cross-country flight, to earn her license.

“I wanted to use this time to actually do something and achieve a goal I have for myself,” said Williamson, who moved to Arlington with her family two summers ago.

After enrolling in Arlington Public Schools, she took aviation as an elective at the Arlington Career Center, which she credits with helping her get on-track toward her license. This spring, she plans to use Yorktown’s three-week senior experience — when students can pursue internships and career opportunities — to finish the bulk of her needed hours at the Navy Annapolis Flight Center.

Williamson said learning from home has helped her juggle practicing flying and driving — she still has yet to get her driver’s license — as well as school and her weekend job.

“I enjoy virtual learning so much,” she said. “I don’t really think I would’ve been this successful this school year without it being this way.”

She said this year has also given her time to reflect on her future.

“The pandemic made me realize I wanted to serve my country even more,” she said. “With all the events that happened I worked hard to see the good despite all the bad happening, that made me see that this country was worth fighting for.”

She said she is paying closer attention to current events in other countries, and feels more inspired to join the Marine Corps, whose mission is “to help people who can’t help themselves.”

Ultimately, Williamson said she wants to be a pilot in the Marine Corps, which blends her love for flying with the admiration she has long held for the women of the Marines.

“Seeing female Marines growing up, they were my super heroes — my Wonder Woman and Supergirl,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been striving for. That’s why I think I would strive there.”

Williamson has many family members who served or still serve in the military. Her father, Col. Ahmed Williamson, is an active-duty Marine, and she has cousins who were pilots in the Air Force and the Marines.

“Those values are embedded into who I am,” she said. 

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Morning Notes

County Lauded for LGBTQ Inclusiveness — “Arlington scored 100 points out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 9th annual Municipal Equality Index for its high standards of inclusiveness and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. While Arlington has been a top-ranked community in the past, this year it was recognized for adding gender identity/expression protections to its Human Rights ordinance and providing all-gender bathrooms in County-owned offices and facilities.” [Arlington County]

Traffic Cam Feeds Back On — After a few weeks of Arlington’s web-based traffic camera feeds being off due to technical issues, the feeds are back on. The traffic cameras can also now be viewed on the My Arlington mobile app. [Twitter]

Traffic Cam Policy Still in Place? — Some cold water on the traffic camera news, from local public safety watchdog Dave Statter: “Cutting cameras during @ArlingtonVaPD incidents is a bad look for the department… Giving a government employee the power to censor what’s in public view based on their own whims and/or a vague county standard sure gives the impression that 1A is not that important to @ArlingtonVA.” [Twitter]

CivFed to Get Aircraft Noise Briefing — “Arlington County government officials and their consultants will update delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation on the ongoing noise study related to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at the federation’s Dec. 15 meeting.” [InsideNova]

Audit Committee Seeking Members — “The Audit Committee is seeking new member applications for a two-year term beginning February 1, 2021. The committee advises the County Board on County government’s exposure to financial, operational, and reputational risks.” [Arlington County]

Nearby: School Names to Change in F.C. — “After six months of a lengthy and often contentious debate involving the entire City of Falls Church community, the Falls Church School Board voted unanimously tonight to change the names of two of its five schools, ones named for U.S. founding fathers who famously owned slaves, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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Morning Notes

More Snow Than Last Year? — “Winter officially starts in just two weeks (by the Dec. 1 meteorological definition), and, as such, we present our annual seasonal outlook… Overall, we expect slightly below-average snowfall, though around the median… 10 to 14 inches (compared with a 15.4-inch average, 11-inch median).” [Capital Weather Gang]

Sailor Sentenced for Child Exploitation — “A former U.S. Navy Seabee was sentenced today to 109 months in prison for transporting images of child sexual abuse. According to court documents, Martin Nieves Huizar, 37, of Arlington, was previously assigned to the U.S. Secretary of State’s overseas travel communications detail.” [U.S. Dept. of Justice]

Construction Crane Coming to Ballston — “Fans of bocce ball at a county park in Ballston will not find themselves displaced, although they soon may see a big crane swinging above their noggins. Arlington County Board members on Nov. 14 approved a request allowing the crane to operate within the government’s air rights above Glebe & Randolph Park. It will support redevelopment of the Harris Teeter site at 600 North Glebe Road.” [InsideNova]

Board Approves New Town Square Name — “The Arlington County Board today approved naming Green Valley’s Town Square for civic activist John Robinson, Jr. Robinson, often called the ‘Mayor of Green Valley,’ fought for decades against racial injustice and inequality in northern Virginia.” [Arlington County]

Shaved Ice Truck Coming to Arlington — “The pandemic did not dampen Noel and Jasmine Bourroughs’ first summer running a mobile Kona Ice truck in Fairfax and the City of Falls Church. In fact, their first season of operating the franchise was so successful they decided to expand. By next March, the couple anticipates opening two more trucks that serve Arlington and McLean.” [Tysons Reporter]

Wreath Promotion at New Pizzeria — From Nov. 27-Dec. 31, Colony Grill in Clarendon “invites guests to sponsor a veteran’s wreath to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery.” [Press Release]

Plane Flying Circles Around Pentagon — A small, single-engine plane registered to a government contractor was flying circles around the Pentagon last night, at an altitude of around 5,000 feet. [@InTheSkyDC/Twitter]

Alexandria Cancels Winter Sports — Alexandria City Public Schools has canceled its winter sports season, a week after Arlington Public Schools reversed course and decided to play most winter sports. [ALXnow]

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Morning Notes

Arlington, MoCo Hire Consultant — “Montgomery and Arlington counties have hired a consultant to develop alternatives to the flight paths at Reagan National Airport that have led to dramatic increases in noise complaints from residents across the region. ‘This will be a game changer,; said Ken Hartman… Montgomery County’s point person on the airplane noise issue.” [Washington Post]

Biden Breaks 100K Mark in Arlington — “It likely won’t be the highlight of his political career, but Joe Biden will go down in history as the first presidential candidate to win more than 100,000 votes in Arlington. Biden garnered 102,510 of them, according to unofficial tallies reported immediately after the election… Trump’s performance, both in total votes and in percentage of the vote, slightly outperformed his 2016 tally in Arlington.” [InsideNova]

What the School Bond Will Fund — “The $52.65 million will be used for the following projects: $24.3 million for planning and design to meet 10-year projected capacity needs at all school levels; $15.4 million for major infrastructure projects such as HVAC replacement for schools; $7.65 million for building refreshes and kitchen renovations at ATS, Key and McKinley; $5.30 million for security entrances at Taylor, Gunston, Jefferson, Williamsburg, Wakefield.” [Arlington Public Schools, InsideNova]

Firefighter Follows in Fallen Father’s Footsteps — “The son of a Washington, D.C. fallen firefighter is following in his dad’s footsteps. When Anthony Phillips Jr.’s father died in the line of duty on May 30, 1999, he never thought he would do that work that took the life of his father 21 years ago. But, never say never… Phillips just graduated from the Arlington Fire Academy Recruit Class 78.” [WJLA]

Some Fog This MorningUpdated at 8:55 a.m. — From a National Weather Service tweet last night: “Some patchy dense #fog is developing over portions of central and northern Virginia. Remain alert if traveling overnight, as visibility could quickly fall to a quarter mile or less.” A Dense Fog Advisory is in effect until 10 a.m. [Twitter, Twitter]

Nearby: Downtown D.C. in Trouble — “Now,empty streets are the norm. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the District’s once-thriving downtown area into a ghost town over the past nearly eight months… Downtown D.C.s’ economy has been crushed by the pandemic, though it has made a slight recovery since the BID issued its last report in July.” [DCist]

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Patrick Moran, a 1990 Yorktown High School graduate, is reaching astronomical heights in his career.

Moran is one of two new pilots appointed by Virgin Galactic into its Pilot Corps on Oct. 27. He joined Jameel Janjua as one of eight pilots in the space flight program.

Virgin Galactic bills itself as “the world’s first commercial spaceline and vertically integrated aerospace company,” according to the company’s website.

A former fighter pilot, Moran will be part of the preparation for commercial service in a test pilot capacity. He and the Pilot Corps will eventually transition to being spaceship pilots, responsible for the commercial flying of passengers.

Moran and Janjua will train to fly SpaceShipTwo, what the company’s site refers to as “the world’s first passenger carrying spaceship to be built by a private company and operated in commercial service.” Moran will also be assigned other responsibilities while based at Spaceport America, New Mexico.

“I am excited to join this fantastic team of talented pioneers leading the charge for commercial space travel and now in the final stages of its flight test program,” the Arlington native said in a press release.

“As a flight instructor, I loved to take people flying in the F/A-18 for the first time, to see their huge smiles as they climbed out of the cockpit. I can’t wait to share the experience of going to space with our Future Astronauts and to see their reactions as they step out of the spaceship and describe their views of Earth from space.”

A 1995 graduate of the University of Virginia’s engineering school, Moran served as a pilot in the Marine Corps for 20 years before retiring in 2015 as a lieutenant colonel. He served in multiple roles while in the Marine Corps, including as a test pilot and test pilot school instructor, and also served as the lead government test pilot for Navy and Marine Corps variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Moran currently lives in Henrico, Virgina, with his wife and son.

Photo (above) via NASA on Unsplash, (below) via Virgin Galactic

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Health Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Holiday season is fast approaching, and millions of people are weighing the risks of air travel versus staying home. The decision is intensified by the fact that many have not seen family for almost a year, and driving long distance just isn’t an option.

While the thought of being confined in a small space with strangers for hours is daunting, recent studies have suggested that flying may not be as dangerous for COVID-19 spread as once thought, and that cabin air may in fact be cleaner than air in hospitals.

This idea that flying may be safer than the hospital or supermarket is an idea airline companies are extolling and fervently proclaiming to all willing to listen. The airline industry has been among the hardest hit by COVID, with travel dramatically declined compared to 2019.

For Reagan National and Dulles International, domestic commercial passenger activity was down nearly 80% this August compared to August 2019. The airliners message of safety seems to be resonating, as the most recent data from Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority shows that the number of domestic passengers has more than tripled at Reagan and more than doubled at Dulles, after bottoming out in April.

The airlines have put in substantial effort to research airplane safety, and perhaps the most convincing study sponsored by United Airlines was just released, albeit not peer-reviewed. Using human-like mannequins and high-tech particle counters in proximity to simulated sick passengers, researchers concluded that the risk of aerosol viral dispersion is reduced 99.7% due to high air exchange rates, HEPA-filtered recirculation and downward ventilation.

High air exchange rates means the entire volume of cabin air is replaced every three minutes, with 75% coming from outside the plane and 25% recirculated after going through HEPA filters. While ventilation system is running, air travels from the ceiling to the floor, reducing risk of horizontal transmission. In other words, risk of transmission is highest if the infected passenger is in the same row, and much lower in the rows ahead and behind.

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Morning Notes

About Last Night’s Flyover — The two fighter jets that flew low and loud over Arlington last night, startling many, were participating in a flyover for the dedication of the new Eisenhower Memorial in D.C. [Twitter, Twitter]

Big Crane Coming to Amazon HQ2 Site — “There will be tower crane erection work this weekend, starting at 5 a.m. on Saturday, September 19 and 7 a.m. on Sunday, September 20. Work will be completed no later than 9 p.m. each day.” All southbound traffic on S. Eads Street will be detoured. [Twitter]

No PARK(ing) Day — “Arlington County will not be hosting annual PARK(ing) Day events tomorrow due to COVID-19 precautions. But feel free to imagine the possibilities of drab, curbside asphalt turned into unique community spaces.” [Twitter]

Barr Speech in Arlington Makes News — “Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday that the Justice Department has recently acted ‘more like a trade association for federal prosecutors than the administrator of a fair system of justice’ and equated some prosecutors to preschoolers and ‘headhunters’ […] in a speech at Hillsdale College’s annual Constitution Day Celebration, which this year was held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia.” [NBC News]

New Fire Engines for ACFD — “The Arlington County Fire Department recently took delivery of two new Pierce Manufacturing pumpers, which went into service with Engine 105 and Engine 109. The twin pumpers have a 1,500-gallon-per-minute pump and carry 750 gallons of water and 30 gallons of firefighting foam.” [InsideNova]

Virtual Award Gala Next Week — “Please join us for the 2020 Spirit of Community celebration on Wednesday, September 23, 2020 at 12:00 PM. This year, the Arlington Community Foundation will be honoring Arlington’s front-line human service workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic with the 2020 William T. Newman, Jr. Spirit of Community Award.” [Arlington Community Foundation]

Fairlington 5K Goes Virtual — “Having canceled its traditional event in April, organizers of the Fairlington 5K have announced plans for a ‘virtual’ race on Saturday, Oct. 3. Participants will have one week to compete in the event, which will support Fairlington resident Ellie McGinn, a young girl born with the rare brain/spinal cord disorder LBSL. Additional funds raised from the event will support Abingdon Elementary School.” [InsideNova]

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Morning Notes

It’s September — With a flip of the calendar, it is now September. Including today, there are 122 days remaining until 2021. There are nine weeks until Election Day. [YouTube, Wall Street Journal]

NORAD Exercises This Week — “We will conduct air defense exercise Falcon Virgo between midnight and 5:30 a.m. (ET) Sept.1-3 in the Washington, D.C. area. The exercise includes U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft, a U.S. Army C-12, a U.S. Coast Guard MH-65D helicopter, and a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182T. Some portions of the exercise may involve flights at approximately 2,500 feet and may be visible from the ground.” [Facebook]

The Backstory Behind Chasin’ Tails — Cajun seafood restaurant Chasin’ Tails, in East Falls Church, along with Happy Endings Eatery in Rosslyn, are owned by two brothers who became globetrotting multi-millionaires by playing online poker. [Washingtonian]

Rosslyn Company to Be Acquired — “Arlington language learning company Rosetta Stone Inc. is being acquired by private equity-backed Cambium Learning Group Inc. for $792 million. The all-cash deal announced Monday values Rosetta Stone (NYSE: RST) at about $30 per share, about 87% higher than its closing price on July 16.” [Washington Business Journal]

Long-time Journalist Dies — “William R. Neikirk, an award-winning economics and political journalist who spent nearly 35 years with the Chicago Tribune and served as White House correspondent during the Clinton administration, died Aug. 27 at his home in Arlington, Va. He was 82. The cause was dementia and complications from the novel coronavirus.” [Washington Post]

Kanye on Va. Ballot — “Rapper Kanye West has qualified to appear on Virginia’s presidential ballot in November, according to state election officials. Elections officials confirmed Friday evening that West will appear on the ballot as an independent after verifying he submitted 5,000 petition signatures from Virginia voters.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: D.C. Offices Nearly Deserted — “Only 5 percent of office workers in downtown DC were in their workplaces at the end of July, according to a new report from the DowntownDC BID. Economic activity in downtown DC, it found, was 12 percent of what it was the year before.” [Washingtonian]

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