Howard County wants federal court to prod FAA to reduce BWI jet noise

Howard County officials are asking a federal court to review six orders from the Federal Aviation Administration about noise from low-flying planes at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

In July, the county filed an administrative petition with the FAA seeking “immediate” action to resolve complaints from communities near the airport and change flight paths of arriving and departing jets.

The county renewed its push last month, filing a new petition with a federal court.

A community roundtable advisory group has said a new air-traffic control system known as NextGen has caused more noise as jets fly lower and Howard County has joined the state in pressing for changes.

Airports around the nation are installing the technology that backers say will result in billions of dollars in fuel savings over the next five years. Critics argue the system has exacerbated noise in neighborhoods, including Hanover, Elkridge and Columbia, that are under BWI flight paths.

The technology at BWI was implemented in late 2014. The airport in 2013 received 283 noise complaints, according to data provided by the Maryland Aviation Adminstration. In 2014, it received 852. In 2015, it received 1,850. In 2016, it received 2,694. Last year, it received 16,120 and this year, through November, it received 122,780.

About 80 percent of all complaints in 2018 originated from fewer than 100 users of the third-party application, according to Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the MAA.

Since August the website airnoise.io has allowed residents to file complaints with the MAA. Dean in an email said this third party is responsible for the “significant spike in the number of complaints.”

Dean said the MAA has “no relation with that third party application. We are simply collecting the data that is provided to us.”

The FAA in July stopped engaging with the roundtable after Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a petition requesting a change in flight patterns to reduce noise.

In an administrative petition , Howard County described the agency’s decision as an abandonment “in the resolution process the FAA dictated.” The petition also described the agency’s actions in implementing new routes at BWI as “unlawful, arbitrary and capricious and unprincipled.”

The agency in September declined to engage this administrative petition because it believed there was “no major federal action associated with these actions” and the procedures at BWI were “fully implemented” and finished “years ago.”

Howard in November filed a federal petition seeking a judge’s review and attached to it its July administrative petition. It alleges an “unlawful implementation and continued use of new concentrated arrival and departure routes and new flight procedures” by the FAA at BWI.

The county said it is an “affected party” and has a substantial interest in the orders launched by the FAA.

The FAA in a statement said it “will carefully review the petition filed by Howard County regarding flights at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.”

“As the petition is reviewed, the FAA will assess when it may be possible to resume its involvement with the D.C. Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable,” the statement said.

“The FAA appreciates the efforts of the BWI Roundtable. The agency remains committed to community engagement and looks forward to future involvement with the Roundtable once the present concerns are resolved,” the statement said.

County Executive Calvin Ball in a statement said “until the FAA, MAA (Maryland Aviation Administration), and BWI come to the table with effective solutions that are immediate and address these excessive noise issues, I am going to keep fighting for the residents of Howard County.”

Then-Councilman Ball and Councilman Jon Weinstein introduced legislation that enabled county lawyers to challengethe FAA in federal court. The areas impacted by the low-flying planes were in their districts.

Howard has a brief due in federal court on Jan. 16. The FAA’s brief is due by Feb. 15.

Reporting from The Baltimore Sun’s Colin Campbell was used in this report.

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This story has been updated to correct and provide context for the number of noise complaints filed to the MAA. Information for a previous version of this story came from a petition filed by Howard County in federal court.
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