East Columbia residents bothered by noisy aircraft over their neighborhoods will find out just how valid their complaints are in the next few months.
Noise monitoring equipment, which was requested by residents, will be set up at eight sites in Long Reach and Owen Brown villages by the end of August, said state Del. Virginia M. Thomas.
Ms. Thomas, a Democrat who represents east Columbia, organized a meeting earlier this month with Maryland Aviation Administration officials in response to residents' complaints that loud airplanes flying from Baltimore-Washington International Airport were disrupting their peace. Eight residents requested equipment on their properties to measure noise levels, said Ms. Thomas. Results will be compiled over four weeks.
"This will give us exact figures so there will be no debate. We'll have facts. Now it's just opinions," said Ms. Thomas. "I'm particularly interested in cargo planes. I have a feeling they're above the legal limit."
Ms. Thomas has asked transportation officials to explore whether cargo aircraft departures from the airport could be restricted after 11 p.m.
Residents of Long Reach and Owen Brown say they are disturbed by late-night, noisy, seemingly low-altitude flights.
"I feel like they're landing on the roof of the house," said Ellen Smit, a resident of Long Reach's Kendall Ridge neighborhood.
"It makes the house shake about every other night," said Mike Dimock who lives in Long Reach's Phelps Luck neighborhood. "It's obviously a big, heavy, old jet. Even when it's gone, you can hear it for 10 minutes."
Phelps Luck resident Judi Bonig said she can't hold a conversation in her back yard at times because of airplane noise, a problem so unsettling she says she has considered moving.
The state aviation officials said most departures after 10 p.m. are cargo airplanes, which generally are older aircraft that lack the more advanced noise reduction technology in passenger planes.
"Cargo planes seem to be the most serious problem," said Ms. Thomas. "I think 11 would be a reasonable cut off time. At 11:30, quarter to 12, 12 o'clock, when people are experiencing 90 decibels, that seems really unreasonable."
But the state aviation officials said that often little can be done to reduce noise or change cargo plane flight schedules.
"We've asked if there could be rescheduling, and we've had some success with passenger airlines," said Mike West, BWI's associate administrator for planning and engineering. "We've had the same conversations with cargo airlines. They're collecting packages all day and getting them to the destination city the next day. It's the nature of their business. We can't do much about it."
But Owen Brown resident Pearline Atkinson-Stewart, who requested the noise monitoring equipment, said, "Citizen input could probably do something about redirecting flights." She added that she plans to work through Howard Feldmesser, Columbia's representative on the BWI Neighbors Committee.
The airport is expanding its east-west runway by 1,000 feet for safety reasons, said Mr. West, adding that it will result in a small increase annually in the volume of flights, but not necessarily in noise.
Within seven to 10 years, the noisier commercial jets are expected to be replaced by quieter, fuel-efficient aircraft, said the state aviation officials. Ms. Thomas recommended
contacting Maryland's congressional delegation to advocate against any delay in a national policy to replace older aircraft.
The state aviation administration's Division of Aviation Noise and Abatement has 23 noise monitoring stations set up in areas encompassing the airport. The closest ones to Columbia are in Elkridge, Harwood Park and Dorsey.
Robert L. Talbert, director of the noise and abatement office, said it is highly improbable that noise in the Columbia area would reach levels recorded in the 12,000-acre airport noise zone. In that zone, noise abatement measures have been undertaken, such as acquiring land, soundproofing and reselling homes.
The noise zone extends nearly to the interchange of Interstate 95 and Route 100, several miles from Kendall Ridge.
The Noise and Abatement Office investigates all complaints. Its 24-hour complaint line number is 301-859-7021.