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Maryland files petitions to change flight paths at BWI, Reagan airports to reduce noise

Maryland files petitions to change flight paths at BWI, Reagan airports to reduce noise
A plane flies over Dorsey Road in Glen Burnie in this 2016 file photo as it prepares to land at BWI Marshall airport. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

The state of Maryland filed a petition Tuesday in a federal court and another with the Federal Aviation Administration asking that the agency readjust flight paths that have upset neighbors of BWI Marshall and Reagan National airports by causing “greater community noise concerns than the FAA predicted,” according to one of the petitions.

Residents first began noticing airliners flying lower over their houses in 2014, when the federal government introduced its new nationwide “NextGen” GPS-based system of air traffic management. The new system came with navigation procedures that resulted in lower flight paths producing more noise at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall, Ronald Reagan Washington National in Arlington, Va., and other airports across the country.

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“Thousands of Marylanders have had their lives disrupted since the new flight paths were implemented without the appropriate level of environmental review, public input and transparency,” Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said in announcing the petitions.

Gov. Larry Hogan said the state was taking action “on behalf of our many citizens who continue to suffer from intolerable noise pollution due to the NextGen program’s flight paths.”

“Our administration remains committed to bringing relief and restoring the quality of life for tens of thousands of Marylanders living around our airports,” Hogan said in the announcement.

The FAA did not respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.

For BWI Marshall, Maryland submitted an administrative petition to the FAA, asking the agency first to release a fuller assessment of the effects of the noise caused by the changes.

The state said the FAA’s initial environmental assessment “did not show the actual proposed routes with sufficient specificity that could allow residents … to determine exactly what changes were proposed and how they would affect particular homes, schools, parks, churches, etc.”

That petition also asked the FAA to categorically stop arrivals at two runways — 33L and 10 — citing the National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the agency to “identify measures to mitigate the effect” of new procedures that cause a “significant effect on the human environment in the community” near an airport.

It also asked the agency to “continue, accelerate and expand efforts to adjust [the new] routes at BWI to improve compatibility with neighborhoods.”

For Reagan National, the state filed a separate petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for review of the FAA’s changes to the approach flight path for a runway. Such a petition seeks a court-ordered change to an agency decision.

The two petitions were filed by a Denver-based outside counsel, Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, which Frosh hired last October to assist with the legal process. The law firm referred questions to the attorney general’s office.

In March 2017, neighbors convened the D.C. Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable, a citizens’ group created to submit feedback to the FAA and demand that the flight paths be changed back to the way they were.

But a year later, the group released an annual report saying the agency “essentially disowns responsibility” for the noise. It suggested that major legislation or a lawsuit likely would be required to solve the problem.

Mary Reese, an Annapolis resident who is the roundtable’s chair, said the FAA presented a slew of solutions in an April meeting that had nothing to do with the problems pointed out by roundtable members.

“They haven’t really been working with us,” she said. “I’m thrilled that our attorney general is doing this. It means a lot for the thousands of people whose property value and lives have been destroyed by what the FAA has dumped on Maryland.”

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Barbara Deckert, who became a “citizen advocate” after BWI airplane noise became intolerable over her Elkridge home, said the petitions — while short of a lawsuit — were a big step forward.

“I am excited beyond words,” she said. “I’m delighted that the FAA is going to be held to account for their slipshod environmental review that they did who knows how many years ago, because most people did not have time to react to it, to figure out how much of it was true or false.”

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