Community Groups, Georgetown University Take FAA to Court Over Airplane Noise, New Routes

Concern about excessive airplane noise over Georgetown, the Palisades and other neighborhoods on the northern bank of the Potomac River has united sometimes disagreeing groups to the point of going to court.

Over the past year, complaints have mounted as with more airplane flights have gone in and out of Reagan National Airport. Some airplanes’ routes have shifted north over Northwest Washington instead of flying straight along the river to and from National Airport — and “NextGen” flight paths are proposed to shift north.

Neighborhood groups and Georgetown University petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Aug. 24 “for review of final decisions by the Federal Aviation Administration (‘FAA’) to permanently implement certain flight arrival and departure routes at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (‘DCA’) in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (‘NEPA’) and with addressing — and, in some cases, without even responding to — significant concerns raised by Petitioners and their members,” according to a Petition for Review, obtained by The Georgetowner.

Petitioners include Georgetown University, the Citizens Association of Georgetown, Burleith Citizens Association, Foxhall Citizens Association, Hillandale Citizens Association, Colony Hill Citizens Association, Palisades Citizens Association, Foogy Bottom Citizens Association and Georgetown University Student Association.

Respondents include the FAA and its administrator Michael Huerta.

The petition continues: “The University, its resident students and the Neighborhoods and their residents have suffered — and will continue to suffer — significant, adverse impacts as a result of the FAA’s flight arrival and departure routes. FAA’s decision with respect to the flight arrival and departure routes was finalized, published and implemented by the FAA on June 25, 2015, as reflected on the list of route decisions on FAA’s online flight procedures data portal.”

According to some neighborhood leaders, “Since the summer of 2013, some of the communities started noticing increased noise and vibrations from flights going in and out of Reagan over their homes. It has become intolerable since then and well into what used to be regarded as ‘curfew hours’ in D.C. from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Because Reagan National Airport (DCA) is no longer deemed a regional airport and because of multiple exceptions to the perimeter rule, it has available slots 24/7, which are starting to be used by multiple airlines. Flights now start as early as 5:20 am and arrivals are well past midnight with greater frequency.”

“The petition for review filed on behalf non-profit neighborhood groups,” another leader continued, “seeks to overturn certain arrival and departure routes approved by the FAA for National Airport.  The basis for this claim is that the FAA relies upon an environmental assessment drafted in 2013 and a subsequent finding of no significant impact without any actual analysis of the recently published routes that have begun to be used this spring and summer or the cumulative effects of other decisions which have increased traffic and noise. Aircraft noise sensors were not moved to new alignments for arrival and departure routes.  The 2013 environmental assessment is not a valid basis on which to publish these new routes.”

One community activist told The Georgetowner, “The MWAA [Metropolitian Washington Airport Authority] and the FAA have not been good neighbors and we believe they have sought to obfuscate the issues we have presented to them since our first meeting. . . . Rather than listening to the community, the FAA has doubled down on its new routes. We understand that the agency plans to implement more routes over more parts of D.C. through the remainder of 2015. We are extremely concerned about this, and we hope other neighborhoods throughout the District will join us in seeking a resolution of this matter.”

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