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Howard vs. FAA: A lawsuit threat that is premature [Editorial]

The lack of a substantial response from the Federal Aviation Administration to sustained complaints about unacceptable jet noise over parts of Howard County from takeoffs and landings at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has the County Council considering suing the federal government.

Two council members also are expected to see if neighboring counties are interested in being parties to a lawsuit. The airport is in Anne Arundel and flight paths also crisscross parts of Baltimore County and City.

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Communities across the country have taken similar steps after the roar of jets has intensified, mainly after the FAA began phasing in a new air-traffic management system called NextGen that is designed to improve efficiency and safety at the nation's airports as skies become busier. NextGen allows planes to fly lower on approaches and departures.

The Howard County Council will weigh whether to take the first step toward legal action against the federal government over flight patterns that are bringing noisy airplanes closer to homes.

Residents in Elkridge, Ellicott City and the Columbia neighborhoods of Oakland Mills, Long Reach and Owen Brown seem to be taking the brunt of the roar of jet engines, which they say is highly disruptive to daily life and fear it could lower their property values. Formal complaints about excessive BWI noise filed with regulators more than doubled from 2014 to 2015.

One property owner said residents sometimes feel trapped by bureaucracy and rules. Testing done last summer on his property found that aircraft noise, while loud and annoying, fell within federal thresholds.

For its part, the FAA — which has been derided as the "federal arrogance administration" by a New York congressman — has said it is listening to the complaints and trying to find solutions to a complex problem. The importance of BWI to the local and regional economy can't be understated and projections show the airport's traffic will double by 2040.

Before the county invests taxpayers' money in a lawsuit, it needs to engage the state's congressional delegation and the new administration in Washington to bring pressure on the FAA to at the very least respond to phone calls and letters. Congress, after all, approved legislation five years ago that expedited the NextGen system and it can hold the regulators accountable.



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