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A plane flies over Dorsey Road as it prepares to land at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
A plane flies over Dorsey Road as it prepares to land at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Howard County has filed a petition against the Federal Aviation Administration in federal court, opposing the agency’s approval of a plan to expand BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport over neighbors’ noise concerns, the county announced Wednesday.

It’s the second petition the county has filed against the FAA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and it follows legal action by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, on the direction of Gov. Larry Hogan, to try to force the agency to readjust flight paths to reduce the noise.

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The $60 million plan to expand the airport’s Concourse A, adding five more Southwest Airlines gates and updating an old baggage handling system, “would only make matters worse,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement. The state approved the plan this summer.

Howard County claims the state is using outdated data in an environmental study needed as part of expansion plans.

“The County has attempted on several fronts to resolve complaints about the unacceptable noise from BWI flights and I am disappointed we have not gotten any meaningful cooperation,” Ball said.

Neighbors of the airport — and others near airports across the country — have unsuccessfully tried to get the agency to reverse flight patterns implemented in 2014 as part of the NextGen satellite-based navigation system, arguing they have increased the noise above their homes and harmed both the quality of their lives and their property values.

The neighbors near BWI formed a roundtable, the FAA’s preferred method of collecting feedback, but the agency cut off negotiations with the group last summer after the state’s legal action.

Jonathan Dean, communications manager for BWI, said, “We continue to work closely with the roundtable to mitigate impacts associated with the FAA’s NextGen initiative.”

The FAA declined to comment, and the governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.

Howard County's Office of Law has begun early discussions to consider taking legal action over flight patterns that are bringing airplanes closer to homes.

The county’s latest petition argues the FAA showed “little regard” for the negative effects on neighbors of the airport when it approved the airport’s expansion plan and says the agency is not using current and accurate noise data in its decisions.

If the petition is upheld in court, the county said, the agency would have to conduct additional noise evaluations before the airport is allowed to expand.

But if the partial federal government shutdown continues, it may be a while before the court takes up the issue.

“The Fourth Circuit has suspended all proceedings in our original petition because of the federal shutdown, and we expect the court will do the same with this filing,” Ball said. “It is long past time for our federal regulators to come to the table in good faith with a plan that addresses the harm being done to our residents.”

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