Georgetowners Face Off With the FAA

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A map of the new proposed flight paths.
A map of the new proposed flight paths.

“The noise over my home from airplanes departing from National Airport is constant. It’s from 5:40 in the morning till after 6 p.m. every day,” said Valerie Schulte, a 30-year resident of Volta Park, Sept. 14 at the Georgetown Library.

“I can’t sleep.” “I can’t hear when I am in the garden.” It’s getting worse all the time.” “The planes are supposed to take off over the river but they don’t.” “They are too big. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

These were just some of the comments Georgetown-area residents made in face-to-face meetings with some twenty Federal Aviation Agency officials at last Wednesday’s FAA workshop on proposed new flight patterns. Charts were set up around a ground-floor room showing how the flight procedures of all departing airlines from National Airport would veer farther east about one-third of a mile between (roughly) Memorial Bridge and Chain Bridge. Detailed handouts showed how the results were derived and validated.

“By having the flight pattern moved further away from Georgetown, the noise level will be reduced by quite a lot,” explained Lynn Ray, vice president of operations support for the FAA air traffic organization in Washington, D.C. “Of course, it never can be eliminated completely,” she added.

But the Georgetown residents in attendance weren’t buying it. While the “old” flight pattern showed a fairly steady route directly over the river, Georgetowners insisted they knew from daily experience that the planes were actually flying directly over the town.

“That’s because the aircraft can deviate one to four miles on either side of the proposed path due to weather and other conditions including birds,” several FAA officials explained to groups of residents huddled around the charts. Volta Park lies only a half-mile deviation from the present route.

“We’ve done better now,” Ray said. “Studying the patterns of arrivals will be the next step.”

The process of evaluating the complaints and making final changes could take between 12 and 18 months.

In the meantime, a legal complaint has been filed by the DC Fair Skies Coalition, including Georgetown University. The group asks residents to file their own personal complaints as well.

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