Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Growing up near Chain Bridge in the Rivercrest neighborhood, I grew accustomed to missing key lines of dialog in TV shows because a noisy airplane roared above the nearby Potomac.

On today’s Potomac-side, folks in Arlington and neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, are no longer so tolerant.

The two counties in 2019 joined in a study of airplane noise to be delivered in the coming months to the Federal Aviation Administration. Seems the federal government’s long-delayed switch to the NextGen system of digitized aircraft and air traffic control has increased the volume and frequency of flights at Reagan National over a region where environmental consciousness has risen.

A preview was offered at the Dec. 15 meeting of the Arlington Civic Federation. Richard Roisman, Arlington’s Regional Transportation Planning Program Coordinator, said the study by the consulting firm ABCx2 is examining possible route changes, increased fines for violations and design of quieter aircraft. The hope, he said, is “for a more equitable distribution of noise” to better protect schools, historic sites and open spaces.

The county’s actions, led by Rep. Don Beyer and county board liaisons Libby Garvey and Matt de Ferranti, have included an unsuccessful protest letter to the FAA seeking to head off new DCA departure protocols that kicked in last Jan. 1.

“These flight procedures are being advanced with minimal community engagement, no environmental review, and no analysis of the impact on historic resources, in violation of long-standing federal policies, and procedures, and quite possibly in violation of federal law,” wrote then-board Chair Christian Dorsey.

The federal authorities comprise an alphabet soup that includes the FAA, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the Secret Service, working with the North of Airport Committee of the Community Working Group (whew!).

Airport managers acknowledge the problem. “A key strategy for limiting aircraft noise exposure over the broader region is to maximize aircraft movements over water and minimize aircraft movements over more densely populated communities,” read their December statement. “The FAA issues arrival and departure procedures that comply with the region’s prohibited airspace restrictions, to generally position aircraft over the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, when air traffic and weather conditions permit. Some communities adjacent to the river corridors will still experience aircraft noise.”

The Arlington-Montgomery study includes a survey based on 1,640 responses from residents (two-thirds of them in Maryland), but which looped in folks in zip codes 22209 (Rosslyn), 22219 (Fort Myer) and 22002 (Crystal City) who have lived in the area 10 years or more. Forty percent agreed the new density of flights has increased noise over the past five years and has become “highly disruptive to daily life.” Biggest offenders are the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 single-aisle airliners, Roisman said, though the good news is that the pandemic has accelerated their phase-out.

Being discussed separately with Beyer is the issue of helicopter noise, which, Roisman noted, is complicated by the “sheer number of agencies” that use them.

With a key meeting with airport staff planned for Jan. 28, the working group hopes to move to phases of community engagement, advocacy and implementation, then wrap up by summertime, Roisman said. “There will be give and take, and we may not get all we want, but overall, lowering noise will be a win for everyone.”

Last summer our book club met in the backyard of friends who live near the Potomac. We could hear most — but not all — of the conversation.


Would you believe me if I claimed my face decorated a record album that sold thousands of copies across North America?

It’s true, after a fashion. In 1980 I was a chief researcher for Time-Life Books in Alexandria. For the music series “Giants of Jazz,” designer Anne Masters needed an authentic guitar player to pose — using correct fingering — for artist Jack Pardue to render the cover in pastels.

So, that’s me uncredited on “The Guitarists” LP box set. I recently played all four discs to bask again in my “fame.”