Aircraft Noise Problem in Barcroft Neighborhood

May 11, 2016 Alexander G. Chamandy Arlington

Updated on May 18th, 2016. This is an informational blog post about the growing aircraft noise problem in the Barcroft neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. This post will be revised and added to as updates become available.

The information contained herein is the result of volunteer research efforts.

Important updates

Recently I was contacted by Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post about the aircraft noise issue in Arlington. She provided some welcome news that Representative Beyer’s office has authored and passed an amendment to the 2017 defense spending bill. This amendment will authorize conducting a study by the FAA and DoD on the noise issue and provide recommendations to address it.

We also discussed the impact of the issue on the Barcroft neighborhood. The article should be published tomorrow (Thursday, May 19th) on Washington Post‘s website with contributions from our other Barcroft neighbors and a representative from nearby Fairlington. A print article is expected on Friday.

More media outreach efforts are also underway as those concerned about aircraft noise in the DC Metropolitan area have seen a surge of recent support.


Results of previous Barcroft neighborhood survey

What I have gathered thus far (both in public and private e-mail messages as well as a poll on the BSCL.org website) is that the majority respondents feel that we have a growing aircraft noise problem in the Barcroft Neighborhood. A smaller, but perhaps more vocal pool of respondents feel that aircraft noise it is not a problem.

BSCL

It is important to remember that Barcroft is a rather large neighborhood spanning the borders of Route 50, George Mason, Columbia Pike and Four Mile Run. As a result, your personal experience with aircraft noise may vary.

For example, on May 10th at 10:16 pm another low flying helicopter flew right over our house, circled and then flew by again about 9 minutes later. I captured a screenshot of the flight path to demonstrate the area of Barcroft being impacted. It’s so loud, in fact, that our house vibrates. Dishes in cupboards shake, too.

With that being said, those directly impacted by the flight path will experience a much worse disruption of their quality of life than those whom are not. For the same reason, car traffic (and its noise) may be perceived as worse problem along the borders of the neighborhood as well.

I have collected complaints from neighbors, including myself, about the following issues:

  • Routine low flying helicopters;
  • patterns of aircraft noise after 10:00 pm on weekdays;
  • and increasing amounts of aircraft noise over the last several months.

Information on the current helicopter noise situation

1: Washington, DC Area Helicopter Routes Chart (2015)

^ No routes (as of 2015) that fly above our neighborhood directly. Maximum altitude is shown at 1300ft. Minimum altitude is 50ft. These altitudes are based off of the number of feet above ground level.

Military are supposed to follow prescribed routes (and account for 75% of air traffic). But military are allowed to use zones as well. We are in zone 5.

Law enforcement and medical do not follow prescribed routes and account for 25% or less of traffic.

2: Washington, DC Area Helicopter Routes Legend

^ It’ pretty hard to understand item #1 without examining this legend at the same time.

3: Northern Virginia Flight Paths Map

^ This image shows a much larger view of our area’s aerial traffic, demonstrating the patterns we can expect in certain locations.

4: Webtrak Aircraft Noise Tracker

This website is extremely useful for tracking flights over our area. One can see relatively current traffic, or also use the Historical button to isolate previous traffic. The markers on the map seem to be accurate. Mousing over the flight marker will show you altitude and speed approximations. The information is delayed by one hour.

5: Arlington County Community Meeting on Helicopter Operations and Noise from December, 2015

^ This is a relatively informative meeting. Most of the back and forth seems to indicate that various aircraft operators feel they’ve done a lot, but that more could potentially be done to mitigate noise. Military aircraft operators seemed concerned about residents’ complaints and many stayed even after the two hour meeting to continue talking to participants about their concerns. Noticeably absent was a DoD representative that could have provided more useful information.


2015 Arlington helicopter noise meeting summary

A: FAA does not regulate military aircraft noise and has no authority over it (DoD handles it). FAA lacks authority to do anything about it without additional laws.

B: It may be worth submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to FAA and DoD asking for flight traffic information over the last 6-12 months over zone 5.

C: Institute a local helicopter noise monitoring program and work to abate unnecessary flights. We should also setup a station in S. Arlington to monitor dB levels here as such a station exists in N. Arlington. 

D: DOD Noise Working Group is the contact for military aircraft noise. This website was active as of the time that this post was authored (May 11th, 2016), but has since been removed. Here is a Google Cache copy from May 8th, 2016 instead.

E: FAA Noise Ombudsman contact for all non-military aircraft:
[email protected]

F: Helicopters are allowed to fly as low as 50ft and as high as 1300ft.

G: Apparently we can contact National Tower (at Reagan) to find out the altitudes that helicopters are currently flying at to verify. The number is 703-412-8140 according to my research.

H: FAA would need to revise helicopter route chart to prevent flying over zones, (including zone 5) which are largely residential areas. At this time they may not have that authority.

I: There may exist a Letter of Agreement between FAA and DoD about the minimum and maximum altitudes of these routes (minimum 50 feet and as high as 1500ft).

J: Some residential areas may be able to get designations as noise sensitive areas.

K: One seasoned helicopter pilot spoke up at the end of the meeting and stated that he felt that route altitudes in certain areas could be higher. He also said that when working with a direct contact he found by contact DoD, he was able to mitigate a routine flight directly above his house.

L: If FAA raises their altitudes for aircraft, then helicopters could also fly higher — reducing noise.

M: Brian Stout is the Arlington County Federal Liaison and has been heading up this helicopter noise issue for Arlington County. He can be contacted with feedback about this issue.

N: Congressman Beyer’s office and Senator Tim Kaine’s office can be contacted with concerns  and feedback. Congressman Beyer’s office is working hard on this issue for us and deserves some serious praise!

O: Notes from Crystal City Civic Association.

P: There was a similar meeting in 2010 about this aircraft noise issue in Arlington, Virginia.

Q: I’ve been told that John Vihstadt is now the Arlington County board member in charge of this issue.

Other notes (via Fairlingon Citizens Association website):

Learn more about the Aviation Policy Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which was at one point tracking this issue, but is now defunct. Read about a previous Helicopter Study.


Post history

This post has a seemingly controversial history. It was once published on the BSCL.org website, but I was forced to remove it and not given any reason as to why. As a result I have moved it here for safe keeping. If you see any errors on the page or have any other information to add please consider e-mailing me ([email protected]).

Lending a hand

Arlingtonians that are interested in joining the volunteer working group on the aircraft noise issue are welcome to e-mail me ([email protected]). Volunteers will help to report noise issues, try to identify vehicles (to their military branch or civilian origin), triage communications between our respective neighborhoods and various agencies as well as work together to research this topic. Currently the working group has five volunteer members.

Final thoughts

I recognize and deeply appreciate the service of the many brave men and women who defend our country, enforce the law and provide medical rescue services — as well as the safety protocols followed by aircraft operators that prevent accidents.

That being said, Barcroft used to be a more peaceful Arlington neighborhood. With our collective effort perhaps we can restore that redeeming quality.

ArlingtonBarcroft neighborhoodhelicopter noise

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