Dulles International Airport bothers fewer people with aircraft noise than almost any other major airport in the country because of efforts during the past 20 years to control residential development near its flight paths, a Federal Aviation Administration consultant has said.
Noise tests show that only 250 residents of Loudoun and Fairfax counties live in areas experiencing "significant" jet noise levels, according to a study released last week by the firm of Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co.
Even with the expected boom in office and industrial development near the airport, the study said that by 2000 only about 800 residents of the two counties will encounter "significant" noise problems, the FAA's least-serious category for noise pollution.
By contrast, 30,000 area residents experience that level of jet noise from National Airport, and 130,000 St. Louis area residents are affected by the airport there, FAA officials said.
"Dulles probably causes the least upset of any airport in this country," said Ron Tulis, an airport specialist with Peat Marwick. "That's because the counties have practiced the sort of land use that they have."
Most of the 250 people affected by Dulles noise live in Loudoun County's Arcola area, west of the airport, in homes built decades before the airport opened, Tulis said.
Most of the formal complaints filed with the FAA about Dulles noise deal with military pilots' periodic use of the airport for training maneuvers using Air Force One and other special aircraft, he said.
The two-year, 182-page report, which cost $250,000, makes a series of recommendations to avoid noise complaints at Dulles and strengthen the position of the FAA, which owns Dulles and National, in the event of lawsuits concerning Dulles noise.
One recommendation is that Fairfax and Loudoun counties institute a requirement that sellers of homes in a noisy area disclose to buyers that there is a problem with jet noise, or that airport growth may bring more jets there.
The report recommended that, when jets are taking off to the south, the FAA require pilots to make east or west turns several miles farther south than they sometimes do. The recommendation came in response to occasional noise complaints from residents of the Pleasant Valley area, south of the airport in Fairfax, Tulis said.
Donald Christianson, president of the Pleasant Valley Homeowners Association, welcomed that proposal. Christianson agreed that noise problems are not severe there, but he said that they occasionally can be irritating. He said he believes that more planes fly over the neighborhood than are reflected in FAA radar-tracking maps.
"It's especially bothersome when they go as early as 6 in the morning or as late as midnight," Christianson said.
The report also said that Loudoun should follow Fairfax's lead by requiring that homes in some areas near the airport have extra soundproofing.
Tulis said another reason Dulles noise generates relatively few complaints is that the airport is so large -- about 10,000 acres.