Go to History
Front Page

The Sound Barrier: Noise Offends National's Neighbors

By Douglas B. Feaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 1997

If a single issue divides National Airport from its neighbors, it is the noise that planes make as they fly over them at low altitudes.

The problem became acute in 1966, when jets were introduced at National and began disturbing backyard barbecues from Cabin John to Mount Vernon. The years have seen lawsuits, political posturing and citizen association resolutions calling for the airport's closing or -- at the very least -- a reduction of its use.

To attenuate the noise complaints, officials have tried a curfew on middle-of-the-night flights; the "perimeter rule," which limits the miles on a nonstop flight using National; a ceiling on the number of passengers annually; and a limit on the number of flights per hour. Pilots also are supposed to use noise-abating techniques.

The curfew today applies to louder, older airplanes; the perimeter has been extended several times -- always to meet the nonstop needs of a district represented by someone with legislative clout -- to 1,250 miles; there is no passenger ceiling but the limit on major airline flights remains 37 an hour.

From 1983 to 1984, at the request of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the airport tried the "scatter plan." Controllers routed planes throughout the region as they took off and landed, and the noise was shared across the urban core. That made everybody mad, and the plan was abandoned.

Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise sued and won both times when it questioned the constitutionality of the congressional review panel that was given veto power over the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The review panel was eliminated in a recent rewrite of the legislation.

John W. Hechinger Sr., former D.C. Council chairman and the lead plaintiff in the second suit, said: "We're the only airport in the country that has not had local control. Congress was trying to run the airport as if it were an extension of their parking lot assignment."

Go to History Front Page   |   Go to Overview Story
Go to Washington World   |   Go to Home Page

Back to the top