Aircraft noise has plagued area residents for decades, perhaps since the development of National Airport (DCA) as an airline destination in the early 1940s. The airport’s convenient location to Washington, D.C. and Capitol Hill, enhanced now by a Metro stop at the terminal, is designed to serve 15 million passengers annually, but welcomed more than 23 million last year. That’s a lot of airplanes flying over residential neighborhoods during takeoffs and landings, the noisiest part of a flight. So, it’s no wonder that a lot of opposition is being voiced against another congressional attempt to expand the number and distance of flights in and out of DCA. Due to its restricted geography and airspace, the airport limits the number of daily flights and the flight distance to less than 1250 miles. That’s known as the slot and perimeter rule, established by Congress in the 1960s, and long defended by area neighbors and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which owns and operates both DCA and Dulles International Airport (IAD).
Some members of Congress, especially from the American Southwest and the West Coast, want to change the slot and perimeter rule, which would make their frequent trips in and out of Washington easier and more convenient — for them. Changing the rule also would bring more noise to neighborhoods and could result in the elimination of shorter flights in favor of longer ones. Dulles, now conveniently accessible by Metro’s Silver Line, is designed to accommodate the longer domestic flights, as well as international flights to anywhere on the globe, so a change to DCA’s schedule is unnecessary and indefensible. In fact, the perimeter rule is essential for maintaining a balance between the two airports which, according to a recent study, contribute more than $14 billion annually to the region’s economy, and generate $1.1 billion in state and local taxes. When flights shift away from Dulles, it raises costs for the airport’s airlines and passengers, and upsets the operational and financial balance of the airport system which, in turn, erodes the airports’ contribution to the regional economy.
So, while airplane noise may be the most readily noticeable airport issue, it is much more complicated, adding safety, access, and economics to the regional discussion. The region’s congressional delegation has gone on record as opposing the congressional attempt to change the perimeter and slot rule, and both the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission have joined that effort. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is considering the latest Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation, but no firm schedule for action has been announced.
Flights not governed by the slot and perimeter rule are the frequent helicopter missions seen, and heard, across our skies. In Mason District, many of those flights are federal or military and follow I-395 to the Pentagon. Emergency medical flights to INOVA Fairfax and other local hospitals also are not affected, and Fairfax County’s two police helicopters are called out to assist in criminal searches and for missing persons, especially children and the elderly. For more information about the police helicopter flights, log on to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/helicopterdivision/fairfax1.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.