Gov. Larry Hogan directed Attorney General Brian E. Frosh on Tuesday to sue the Federal Aviation Administration over new flight patterns at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The flight patterns have provoked bitter complaints from area residents about excessive noise. The Republican governor instructed the Democratic attorney general to take legal action against the federal agency "on behalf of all Marylanders suffering from the adverse effects of the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System."
Hogan told Frosh to sue the FAA and its administrator, Michael P. Huerta, to seek changes in arrival and departure routes at BWI and Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va. A spokeswoman for Frosh said the attorney general shares the governor's concerns and is reviewing Hogan's direction.
The FAA's $35 billion NextGen system, which employs satellite navigation and advanced digital communications to direct flight paths, has been implemented at 30 of the nation's largest airports, the agency says. They include the three in the Baltimore-Washington area.
The agency has billed the system as "a monumental, historic shift to modernize the U.S. air transportation system" to reduce time, save fuel and improve safety. But its implementation has brought complaints about noise at airports around the country.
In his letter, Hogan told Frosh he has heard complaints from many Maryland communities about NextGen.
"This program has made many Maryland families miserable in their own homes with louder and more frequent flights which now rattle windows and doors," Hogan wrote. "As elected leaders of this state, we cannot allow this situation to stand."
Barbara Deckert lives in the old section of Elkridge off U.S. 1. She said she was "deliriously happy" about Hogan's decision.
Since the FAA changed its traffic patterns at BWI two years ago, she said, the noise at times has been "absolutely horrendous."
"I've had sound levels up to 107 decibels, which is high enough to cause permanent hearing loss," she said. A 33-year resident of Elkridge, she said she and her late husband never heard planes when they first moved there.
Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball, a Democrat who represents part of the Elkridge area, welcomed Hogan's action. Ball said he's heard complaints from as far away as Ellicott City and West Columbia.
"The impact of NextGen has really hurt the quality of life for my people in Howard County," he said. Ball noted that the Howard Council passed a resolution last year instructing the county legal staff to explore options for action against the FAA.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican who signed that measure, said he was pleased by the governor's action.
"We have been actively exploring legal action on behalf of the many Howard County families who have been suffering," he said.
NextGen has also raised concerns in the Anne Arundel County neighborhoods under BWI's flight paths.
Anne Arundel County Councilman Peter Smith, a Democrat whose district includes the airport, said he supported Hogan's decision.
"If it means they have to go to court to have this thing addressed, so be it," he said. Smith noted that the Anne Arundel council passed a resolution last week urging the FAA to respond to their constituents' concerns.
When the system was first installed at BWI in late 2014, the airport's management welcomed it. The FAA had billed NextGen as a system that would let aircraft drop from cruising altitude to the runway in a "smooth, continuous arc," rather than the "traditional staircase descent" used previously.
But Hogan said the program had been criticized as having received "insufficient study, notice and outreach to the general public and the affected jurisdictions."
"Notice to Maryland was inadequate and designed to ensure speedy approval rather than to promote community input and discussion," Hogan wrote. He urged Frosh to seek court action forcing the FAA to go back to the routes it used before September 2014.
The FAA wrote a letter to Hogan last month in which it pointed to the work of the DC Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable, a group formed to address the concerns about the flights at the airport.
The agency pledged to work with the group to come up with solutions, but said "reverting to the flight paths and procedures that existed prior to the implementation of the DC Metroplex project is not possible."
The DC Metroplex includes BWI, Reagan and Dulles International Airport. Reagan is in Virginia, but its flight paths affect neighborhoods in Prince George's County.
The FAA said it was prioritizing improvements to the region's flight paths, but it could take up to two years to implement changes.
Asked for a response to Hogan's action, FAA spokeswoman Laura J. Brown said the agency "is committed to hearing the community's concerns and to fully and fairly consider any formal Community Roundtable-endorsed changes."
Raquel Guillory Coombs, a spokeswoman for Frosh, said the attorney general shares the governor's concerns about the BWI flight patterns. She said he could not give an immediate reply to the governor's directive because "the office has a responsibility to determine whether it is a viable case."
Hogan and some of the local residents found encouragement in a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that upheld a challenge by the city of Phoenix over NextGen flight patterns in Arizona.
In a decision released two weeks ago, the court found the FAA did not properly analyze the impact of its flight path changes at Sky Harbor International Airport.
Deckert said Maryland opponents of the BWI changes have been in touch with Phoenix critics of NextGen through the Facebook discussion group BWI quiet. She turned to a "Star Wars" analogy.
"Rogue One got the plan to beat the Death Star," she said, "and now they're sharing their plans with us."