BWI Airport neighbors call for noise solutions at meeting with FAA officials

"This meeting is to schmooze people." BWI neighbors bring noise complaints to FAA officials.

Frustrated neighbors of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport filled a school cafeteria in Linthicum on Thursday night for a chance to confront Federal Aviation Administration officials about the increased jet noise caused by new, lower flight paths over their homes.

FAA representatives greeted about 100 people at Lindale Middle School and explained the reasoning for the adjusted flight patterns — part of a $35 billion nationwide air traffic overhaul intended to modernize routes and save the airlines tens of billions of dollars in fuel. The plan will save $160 billion in fuel and other costs through 2030, according to the FAA.

But several of the upset residents said they didn't come to be educated on the reasons for the new patterns. They want them reversed, they said, to be able to sleep at night and not have conversations interrupted by planes flying over — problems that they said didn't exist before.

Richard Ugiansky, 80, a former pilot who lives in Elmhurst, said planes used to fly a mile overhead. Now, he said, they fly at 850 feet.

"You can see every rivet on the airplane," he said. "And you can't hear the person right next to you."

The flight pattern displays were educational, Ugiansky said.

"But whether they actually let us do anything about it," he said, "I doubt it."

The new flight patterns have faced harsh community backlash across the country in the last year, including in Phoenix, where the city sued the FAA over the noise.

Jean Lahr, who lives near Ugiansky in Elmhurst, said she could verify that the noise isn't just a problem at BWI. She has visited family members who live near the Phoenix airport.

"They're screaming about it, too," she said.

Residents in both areas don't need any further information on the reasons for the noise, Lahr said. They just want it to stop.

"I don't think they're here to hear our concerns," she said. "We've already heard the rules."

Maryland Aviation Administration officials said in June that they want to revert to old air traffic patterns after hearing residents' complaints. MAA and county officials have pointed out in letters to the FAA that the flight patterns are not compliant with the airport's Noise Compatibility Program and the state's Noise Abatement Plan.

Carmine Gallo, the FAA's regional administrator for the eastern region, said he was unaware that the lower flight patterns violate the local agreements.

Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for BWI and MAA, said state aviation officials plan to organize a roundtable with local, state and federal officials to discuss how to proceed. He was less harsh than the neighbors in his view of the FAA's efforts.

"They have indicated a willingness to continue to examine further potential changes to arrival and departure procedures at BWI and throughout the D.C. Metroplex," Dean said.

The FAA is open to adjusting the flight patterns, said Gallo, whose territory includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington.

"Everything's subject to change," Gallo said.

But he acknowledged that any change to a federal program won't happen quickly.

"It's a slow, cumbersome process that sometimes can take time," Gallo said. "But we can move the needle."

Tom Lahr, 75, Jean Lahr's husband, wasn't optimistic. The airplane engines roared over his house starting at 5:18 a.m. Thursday, he said.

"This meeting is to schmooze people, to convince them they need to live with this," he said. "They're trying to roll over the MAA and not bring their procedures into compliance."

The Baltimore Sun Media Group contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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