Residents in several Northwest Washington neighborhoods aren’t giving up their fight against airplane noise from flights at Reagan National Airport. They are asking for a rehearing of their case against the Federal Aviation Administration from a full panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In March, a three-judge panel of the same court ruled against the group, saying that while its argument — that the FAA failed to give it and elected representatives proper notice about changes in flight paths at National Airport — held “some appeal,” its case could not be considered because it had missed the deadline for filing its complaint. Under the law, residents had 60 days from the time the changes were finalized to file. They did not file until more than a year later.
In their petition, the residents’ attorneys argue that the panel’s opinion was based on a misreading of facts and conflicts with an earlier decision in a case involving the city of Phoenix and changes the FAA made to flight paths at Sky Harbor International Airport. In that case, a different three-judge panel ruled that the FAA’s lack of outreach trumped the requirement that petitions be filed within a 60-day window. As a result of that ruling, the two sides reached an agreement to change some of the flight paths while the FAA conducted expanded public outreach about other routes.
Similar skirmishes over airplane noise have broken out in communities across the country as the FAA has shifted flight paths in its effort to modernize the air traffic system. The initiative, dubbed NextGen, relies on GPS rather than World War II-era radar to move planes through the sky. FAA officials say it will make air travel more efficient, reducing delays and saving fuel. But the result has been a significant increase in noise for some residents on the ground, some of whom have never had to deal with jet noise before.
In Maryland, officials are considering their own lawsuit against the FAA over noise from flights at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.
Residents in Georgetown have long contended that the FAA misled them about changes to the flight paths at National and kept them in the dark about environmental reviews that found there would be no impact when planes shifted to new takeoff and landing routes. In their petition, they note that even though the changes were finalized in 2013, the planes did not begin regularly flying the routes until 2015. It was only then that residents realized the true impact of the shift, they said. Noise complaints spiked.
FAA officials said they are not ignoring residents’ complaints, adding that they’ve held meetings with residents and local officials about the changes made as part of the transition to NextGen, as well as shifts that were made to address concerns about noise in McLean, Va., and Arlington, Va.