Living along the flight corridor of one of the busiest airports in the world is irritating enough to make some people think of leaving home -- for good.
Bobbi Stuart, who lives with her husband Matthew and their 18-month-old son Matthew IV in Cabin John, have decided to do just that. Stuart said the noise was the major factor in their decision to move.
The jets flying into and out of National are "like a big thorn" in the side of an "overwhelmingly beautiful" community, Stuart said.
"It seems as if there are always planes flying overhead," Stuart said. "People don't believe how bad it is, and I guess I didn't realize it myself until I was at home all day with the baby. The reverberations from those jets are incredible -- they often rattle the baby's crib, and almost always drown out the sound of the phone."
She added that she has timed the takeoffs and found that one of the planes flies overhead at least every two minutes.
In addition to the noise, people who live along the flight path also complain of air pollution.
Just thinking about the daily lives of those grounded along the flight path of National Airport is enough to make Eric Bernthal mad. He calls the planes a "constant overhead instrusion." Bernthal, a Cabin John attorney whose own home is in the pattern of National takeoffs and landings, is president of the recently formed Wasington Metropolitan Coalition on Airport Problems (CAP).
The coalition is made up of nearly 125 local and area civic groups concerned about the noise, traffic and pollution problems at National Airport. Virginians for Dulles, Maryland Citizens Concerned About Aircraft Noise (MCCAN) and a D.C. group, Neighbors Opposed to Irritating Sound Emissions (NOISE), are among the member organizations.
"The obvious flaw," said Bernthal of the previous efforts of the individual organizations, "was that there were groups on both sides of the river and in the District, but we were not organized. Finally, it became apparent that there was no hope of dealing with the problem in a rational way if we didn't bury our differences and work together."
The coalition had its beginnings when members of Virginians for Dulles, the oldest of the groups involved in the 14-year battle over National, invited members of MCCAN to sit down and discuss common goals. When NOISE was formed in the District, it also was asked to take part in the discussions. From there, information about the alliance spread, and the umbrella organization was developed.
Bernthal said the group is not entirely satisfied with a recent FAA proposal to limit passengers at National and divert some of the jet traffic to Dulles and Baltimore-Washington international airports. He agrees with the assessment of CAP second vice president Eric Cronquist, a Palisades resident, who says the FAA proposals are "token and cosmetic."
Coalition members are unimpressed by part of the plan that calls for a 20 percent reduction in the 640 jetliner flights now permitted each day at National. Bernthal and Cronquist say this is not enough. They would like to see a 50 percent reduction in the flights.
"Reducing the traffic by four slots per hour is a modest step," Bernthal said. "No one will hear any difference unless he's standing outside counting the jets."
Bobbi Stuart says fewer jets might also mean a reduction of what she sees as a potentially serious pollution problem.
"I always worry about that, especially since I have a small child. My husband and I left Los Angeles because we agreed that we didn't want to bring up a small child in such a dirty environment. So here we are, and although we're not talking about smog, I believe it's basically the same thing."
Stuart said that she and her husband "complain constantly" about the noise, but to no avail.
"I think they know me by name," she said, laughing. "But now they have a recording, so you seldom get to talk with another human being. And if you do, they'll just say, 'Oh, well if you live in Cabin John, what did you expect?' And the people who answer the phones are almost always snotty and uncooperative."
Of the FAA proposal, Stuart said, "Any move to cut back the number of flights is a step in the right direction."
But a 50 percent reduction, coalition spokesmen say, would force the airlines using National to divert flights to Dulles and Balitmore-Washington.
Bernthal says he considers the suggestion a reasonable one, although he admits that the major airlines are not likely to see it as such.
"I realize that the FAA is caught in the middle here," he says, "and I'm sympathetic. But I'm not sympathetic to the businessman in Chicago who wants the convenience of National, because when I go to his city, he makes me land at O'Hare.
"I agree that National is far more convenient for some people, and I'm not saying shut it down. But the old argument is just not true anymore -- the population center has radically expanded. Everyone who takes a plane out of National isn't leaving from D.C., although the congressmen still feel that they must have their plaything."
In addition to a reduction in the amount of traffic, the coalition seeks:
Retention of short-haul commuter airline slots at National. Coalition members fear that a mandatory cut in scheduled flights may have a more serious affect on commuter service than on the major airlines.
Improved public transportation to Dulles International Airport.
A tougher, more restrictive mandatory curfew at National. Although the airport closes at 10 p.m., the coalition alleges that flights scheduled for what they call the "magic minute," between 9:59 and 10 p.m., often do not leave the runway until as late as midnight.
The establishment of an advisory committee of citizens and local officials who would discuss airport-related issues with the FAA.
While saying the number of planes using National is the "critical question," the coalition spokesmen also see potential problems in two other aspects of the proposal. They feel expansion of the 650-mile perimeter, in which nonstop flights between National and other cities are allowed, and the possibility of wide-body jets landing at the airport, would eventually create a need to expand National.
Bernthal and Cronquist admit that while the FAA proposal does not satisfy the coalition's demands, it represents a victory of sorts. They say it is the first time a sectretary of transportation has been willing to acknowledge that that there are problems with National.
They also say coalitions such as theirs, which they believe may represent as many as 100,000 people, can be very effective once they are able to generate a wide-spread interest in the issues. Cronquist says the "political interests" (meaning Congress) that have kept National overcrowded represent "only a small, albeit heavily weighted group."
James Wilding, director of Metropolitan Washington Airports, agrees that such groups can have a strong impact on the policy-making process. He would not comment on the coalition's stance on the FAA proposal, saying he is "quite anxious not to enter into a debate with them" during the 90 days in which the proposal is open to public comment.
The comment period extends through April 15. Persons wishing to express an opinion may do so by writing to the Director, Metropolitan Washington Airports, Hangar 9, Washington, D.C. 20001. Copies of three documents pertaining to the plan -- the Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the Notice of Proposed Policy and the Environmental Impact Statement -- will be on the reserve shelves of Washington metropolitan libraries at the end of next week. Personal copies of the rule-making and policy notices are available from the FAA Office of Public Affairs, Public Information Center, 800 Independence Ave., SW, Washington D.C., 20591. The environmental impact statement may be obtained from the director's office, Metropolitan Washington Airports. There is no charge for these materials, which also may be requested by calling 426-8058.