Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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In addition to fighting for D.C. budget autonomy, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is waging a higher battle—against airplane noise produced by flights out of Reagan National Airport.

Norton publicly released a letter today that she sent the Federal Aviation Administration, which in 2015 put into effect new flight paths over neighborhoods in Wards 2 and 3, including Foggy Bottom and Georgetown. Since then, Northwest residents—led by the D.C. Fair Skies Coalition—have complained about engine noise in the early morning and late at night. The group and Georgetown University petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. last August, aiming to curb the noise by diverting the northward flight paths. They allege the FAA didn’t perform a proper environmental study.

In her letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Norton says the disturbances seem to have grown in recent months.

“My constituents have felt compelled to file a petition with FAA about continuing concern about the shifting of flight paths for planes departing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport from over the Potomac River to over District of Columbia neighborhoods… creating unbearable noise,” the delegate writes. “Amazingly, residents report that airplane noise is actually starting to intensify in other parts of the city, including the Bellevue neighborhood of Ward 8.”

Last month, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine also sent a letter to FAA voicing his support of the aggrieved residents, joining the ranks of ward councilmembers. Norton alludes to a forthcoming FAA announcement “about potential new departure flight procedures.” “We will await FAA’s announcement before taking further action,” Norton goes on to note.

You can read the delegate’s full letter below:

Michael HuertaAdministratorFederal Aviation Administration800 Independence Ave. SWWashington, DC 20591 Carmine GalloEastern Region AdministratorFederal Aviation Administration1 Aviation PlazaJamaica, NY 11434

Dear Administrator Huerta and Eastern Region Administrator Gallo:

I write to support my constituents in the D.C. Fair Skies Coalition who have filed a petition because they have been unable to receive relief after reaching out to the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (MWAA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  As you know, my office has worked with MWAA and its Airplane Noise Working Group, and we recognize that the working group is making progress.  However, my constituents have felt compelled to file a petition with FAA about continuing concern about the shifting of flight paths for planes departing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) from over the Potomac River to over District of Columbia neighborhoods, including Georgetown, Burleith, Foggy Bottom, Foxhall, Colony Hill, and Palisades in Wards 2 and 3, creating unbearable noise.  Amazingly, residents report that airplane noise is actually starting to intensify in other parts of the city, including the Bellevue neighborhood of Ward 8. 

Even after I filed an amendment to ban scheduled flights between midnight and 6:00 a.m. that failed for technical reasons, constituents report more late night and early morning flights, with some departing as early as 4:55 a.m.  However, I was successful this year in getting a provision in the House FAA reauthorization bill requiring the FAA to conduct a review of aircraft noise exposure and its effects on communities around airports, including a review of FAA’s community involvement practices for NextGen projects located in metroplexes.  I have also been working with my congressional colleagues to address this issue, which is plaguing communities across the country.  We have now formed a Quiet Skies Caucus to further nationalize this issue.  These flights pose real risk to our community here and across the nation. 

I appreciate that last year, FAA and MWAA officials attended a standing-room only community meeting where D.C. residents raised their concerns directly with the two agencies.  Yet today, many residents feel it is almost as if our community meeting never occurred, and as if FAA has not been listening. At the moment, I can only hope that improvements occur after an announcement I am told FAA will soon be making about potential new departure flight procedures.  We will await FAA’s announcement before taking further action.

The D.C. Fair Skies Coalition, which includes the civic associations representing Ward 2 and Ward 3 neighborhoods and Georgetown University, has filed an administrative petition with the FAA.  I ask that you please give full and fair consideration to their request consistent with applicable law, rules, and regulations. Sincerely,Eleanor Holmes Norton