Lobbying for BWI Noise Relief
Every General Assembly session, the BWI Roundtable's Legislative Committee advocates for legislation that would enable airport expansion and operation decisions to include considerations of noise-affected communities. NextGen has brought about industry efficiencies and economic stimulus but the concentrated noise on affected communities is a significant health hazard that needs immediate mitigation.
Prolonged noise exposure caused by controversial flight paths at BWI airport have negative health effects that will, on average, cost Marylanders in excess of $40 million per year over the next 30 years, according to a study from Dr. Zafar Zafari and Jeong-eun Park at the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy.Projecting the Health and Economic Burden of Aircraft Noise
Since NextGen's implementation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed minor procedural adjustments in response to requests made by the advisory BWI Roundtable.
In 2018, the FAA proposed changes focused mainly on the concentrated 25% of departures heading to the west on a particular departure procedure. The proposal would reroute these departures to a new departure procedure. Other changes included
- minor dispersion adjustments along certain runways but the FAA refused to revert to pre-NextGen dispersions
- flight path shifts closer to 2012 historical locations to the west and south of Elkridge and Columbia
- minor changes to aircraft altitude profiles.
BWI Roundtable requested the following noise reduction adjustments: higher altitudes for longer amounts of time, Continuous Descent Approaches, and flight dispersion through procedural changes. The BWI Roundtable's response was sent to the FAA in November 2019.
If the FAA accepts these procedural changes, it will go through an Environmental Assessment process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and would require public input and changes.
The BWI Roundtable’s proposal would reduce noise in Elkridge, Hanover, Long Reach, Oakland Mills, Downtown Columbia, and Wilde Lake by shifting patterns to less densely populated areas. Unfortunately, the proposed areas are in the southern part of Howard County that is currently not impacted by NextGen pathways.
Noise ComplaintsExpand All
BWI-Marshall airport received 123,133 noise complaints from 230 individuals during the second quarter of 2022. The airport received a total of 620,276 noise complaints in 2021. Prior to full implementation of the FAA's NextGen program in 2015, BWI received only about 300 noise complaints per year.
Generally, these noise complaints are filed at the rate of over 1,000 per day. These are individual noise complaints, generated one at a time, by individual citizens. They include important details provided by each aircraft's ADS-B signal, such as date and time of signal capture, type of aircraft, operator, flight number, aircraft type, operation: departure or arrival, the distance from the user's home, and altitude.
The Roundtable is composed of individuals appointed by the State legislative districts and Counties impacted by the NextGen flight paths. I have served on the Roundtable since 2018.
The Roundtable has met continuously since 2017 when it was first formed. Typically, the Roundtable meets on a monthly basis.
After being informed of the new NextGen flight tracks, Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) notified the FAA that the new flight tracks did not comply with the State’s Noise Compatibility Program or the state mandated Noise Abatement Plan. FAA’s response was to change the flight path, with no notice, further increasing the noise and number of flights over residential areas. Numerous exchanges of letters occurred between MAA, the Congressional delegation, and FAA, ending in a request from FAA to form a community roundtable to address the concerns of the community.
At the first meeting of the Roundtable in March 2017, an FAA official admitted that DC Metroplex (including BWI Airport) was the first project and a test for the rest. He further admitted that FAA had learned a lot of lessons from all the harm they were causing.
The Roundtable members unanimously agreed to call for a reversion to the former flight paths that flew over commercial areas in a dispersed manner. The Congressional Delegation, the Governor, and the MAA sent multiple letters to the FAA supporting the Roundtable’s request.
At the April 2018 meeting, the FAA stated that it would not return the flight paths to vectored (dispersed) flight paths. In June 2018, the State filed a petition demanding a return to previous flight paths based on the FAA’s failure to adequately disclose the impacts of the new flight paths. In July, FAA stated it would no longer participate in the Roundtable and that same month, Howard County filed an administrative appeal.
This is a civil matter in which Howard County claimed that the FAA took actions to implement the NextGen at BWI-Marshall Airport without informing the public and without performing environmental and other reviews required by three Federal statutes. Furthermore, the FAA gave no notice of its actions, acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, and abandoned State and Federal noise abatement programs. Similar actions were brought by the City of Phoenix and the State of Maryland. This matter began with an administrative petition filed with the FAA, which the FAA denied.
Status Update Principal Brief filed March 2019
Briefing completed July 2019
Oral argument March 18 to 21, 2020
Petition Dismissed August 11, 2020
On January 14, 2019, Howard County filed a petition for review challenging the FAA’s October 23, 2018, approval of cargo facility improvements and expansion at the BWI-Marshall Airport. The cargo facility improvements and written re-evaluation, which were challenged in this case, were requested by the MAA, and the State joined the lawsuit as a respondent.
Howard County claimed that the FAA’s decision was made in violation of the NEPA, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act, as well as FAA policy and regulations. In 1998, the FAA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact based on an Environmental Assessment, which considered cargo facility improvements at BWI-Marshall Airport.
At the time, the airport sponsor, MAA, only partially completed those improvements. In 2017, the FAA issued a written re-evaluation that validated the 1998 Environmental Assessment and authorized additional components of the original project to proceed. The FAA’s 2018 re-evaluation, which is the focus of the challenge by Howard County, authorized still more of the original project to proceed, with some minor refinements. Even though the project will expand the cargo parking area and allow for more cargo operations, the FAA determined the environmental impacts are consistent with what was originally evaluated in the 1998 Environmental Assessment and that no other factors warranted a Supplemental Environmental Assessment. The FAA’s 2018 written re-evaluation incorporated a Technical Report that claimed that the environmental conditions at BWI-Marshall Airport have not substantially changed and the proposed action will not lead to significant environmental impacts.
Howard County has longstanding concerns about noise at BWI-Marshall Airport and opposes the project because it will increase cargo capacity and is expected to result in an increase in cargo aircraft operations.
Briefing completed November 2019
Motion to allow extra-record evidence granted in October 2019
Oral argument March 18 to 21, 2020
Dr. Zafar Zafari of the University of Maryland was commissioned through State Budget appropriations to conduct a study on the health outcomes and health costs associated with communities adversely affected by noise from BWI-Marshall Airport.
During the 2023 General Assembly session, the Legislative Committee of the BWI Roundtable, of which I am a member, was successful in advocating for the passage of changes to the composition of the Maryland Aviation Commission (MAC) and a broadening of the Commission’s scope beyond the aviation industry. Delegate Terri Hill and Senator Clarence Lam provided important leadership in sponsoring Senate Bill 0162 and House Bill 0204. MAC was set up to improve and promote the role of the BWI-Marshall Airport, approve regulations for the all State airport operations, direct the Administration in developing and implementing airport management policy; and approve major capital projects. MAC consisted of nine members appointed by the Governor and included the air carrier and airport concessionaire industries, government representatives, and others with an interest in promoting the airport.
The legislative changes to MAC improve the opportunities for affected communities to provide feedback to decisionmakers. The 2023 General Assembly bills amended the law in the following ways:
- Requires the Commission to consider information from citizen groups, local governments, and plane-noise affected communities as well as environmental, health and community-related impacts;
- Increases the membership to 13 voting members with two additional members recommended by the Anne Arundel County Senate Delegation and two additional members recommended by the Howard County Senate Delegation;
- Requires members to receive an orientation on the Commission’s responsibilities.