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Federal officials provide new data in BWI noise controversy

Residents concerned with changes to flight patterns at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport got a detailed explanation and analysis of how arrival and departure paths have changed between 2014 and 2016 on Tuesday night.

People living on or near flight paths leading to and from the airport shared stories at a meeting last month of planes waking them up and keeping them awake. The loud, frequent noises cause health problems and anxiety, people said. People are concerned about their property values and quality of life, they said.

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The problems were caused by a change the Federal Aviation Administration made in November of 2014, when the Next Generation Air Transportation System was implemented, the residents said.

The DC Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable, a group of community representatives, which was established by the Maryland Aviation Administration, held a meeting Tuesday evening in Linthicum where they continued to discuss the problem.

Before the meeting, Linda Curry, who is a member of the Greater Severna Park Council's Airport Noise Committee, said she has lived in Severna Park for 20 years. Airplane noise has been a problem for about a year and a half, she said.

"There are people in our community who are talking about selling homes," Curry said.

Some people have stayed with relatives for weeks to get away from the noise, she said. Her group is focusing right now on making politicians aware of the issue, she said.

At the May meeting of the roundtable, the altitudes airplanes were flying at was raised as an issue, with residents saying it appeared that planes were flying lower following the implementation of the NextGen system.

The data presented Tuesday night showed a smaller change that roundtable members said was disconnected with their experiences.

Federal officials presented altitude data from several BWI departure and arrival paths Tuesday, based on thousands of flight samples taken in 2014 and thousands of samples taken in 2016.

The arrival path for Runway 33 Left, which flies over Anne Arundel County, showed that five nautical miles from the runway planes were on average 30 feet higher, 10 nautical miles out they were 350 feet higher, and 20 nautical miles out they were 840 feet higher.

The departure path for Runway 28, which includes Anne Arundel and other counties, showed average altitudes that were 160 feet lower five nautical miles out, 110 feet 10 nautical miles out and 70 feet 20 nautical miles out.

The roundtable's chair, Lance Brasher, asked about the disconnect. An aviation official, John Belk, said they had confidence in the data and promised to return again next month if he is invited, bringing even more information.

During a public comment period Brasher asked the roughly 30 people attending the meeting whether or not they thought the flights were lower — nearly everyone raised their hand.

In May Gov. Larry Hogan asked the federal officials to revert flight patterns to their original locations at both BWI and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, through a letter addressed to FAA administrator Michael Huerta.

In the letter, Hogan said the Next Generation Air Transportation System's implementation in November of 2014 has "dramatically increased the noise levels in several populous Maryland jurisdictions."

"To date, there has been little to no action taken to mitigate this noise pollution. In fact, the problem has only metastasized into the National Capital Region and beyond," Hogan said in his letter.

U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Congressmen Steny Hoyer, Elijah Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, John Delaney, Anthony Brown, and Jamie Raskin sent a letter to the FAA in April with the same request — revert to the original flight patterns.

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The politicians' response followed a unanimous vote by the DC Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable. In March, the group unanimously voted on a resolution asking the FAA to restore the pre-Next Generation flight paths.

Elizabeth Ray, vice president of Mission Support Services for the FAA, sent a letter to the roundtable's chair May 12 to address that decision. In the letter, she said the administration was prepared to optimize procedures, and add new procedures if necessary — but it is impossible to revert to the old system immediately.

At the roundtable's May meeting, she repeated that promise, and gave a timeline for long-term solutions — 18 to 24 months.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the sample size used by the FAA to calculate average flight altitudes.



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