Reagan National expansion plans

Sunrise highlights the distinctive architecture of the B/C Terminals at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Arlington government officials plan to formalize their agreement with leaders in Montgomery County, Md., to fund a study on the northerly aircraft departure route out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The County Board plans to ante up half the projected cost for a consultant, with the Montgomery County Council putting up the other half. The agreement will ratify a less formal arrangement between the two jurisdictions that has been in effect since last summer.

At issue is the new flight routing implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2014 as part of its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The routing continues to take aircraft departing northbound up the Potomac River past Bethesda to the east and McLean to the west. Yet unlike previous route patterns, which diffused aircraft across a wider expanse of terrain, NextGen concentrates the aircraft over tighter corridors as they ascend to reach cruising altitude.

Areas of Montgomery County are most impacted, but the new corridor has “had a significant and worsening impact on the quality of life of Arlington residents,” a county official writes, without elaboration, in a memo to County Board members.

In 2015, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority convened a regional working group to look at the impact of aircraft noise and work toward solutions. But “there remains a lack of data-driven understanding of what has caused the increased noise impacts and what can be done to address them,” county officials say.

(Given that current-generation aircraft are significantly less noisy than those that came before them, it could be a case of the public being more apt to complain. Another possibility: the increasing number of aircraft operations at Reagan National in current years.)

The contractor would be tasked with “identifying and evaluating all actions that could reasonably be taken to reduce and mitigate” noise impacts, Arlington officials said. The Arlington government would manage the contract on behalf of the two jurisdictions.

Federal law gives the FAA wide latitude in managing the nation’s airways and airport approaches. But it is not unlimited power: In 2017, a federal appeals court sided with officials in Phoenix, Ariz., who had sued the agency for failing to provide enough community engagement before it implemented new air-corridor routes out of that region’s Sky Harbor International Airport.

While the Arlington-Montgomery agreement only focuses on Reagan National, Maryland officials also have been irked by changes to traffic patterns around Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

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