As Loudoun County leaders debate development policies around Dulles Airport, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has agreed to conduct a new study of noise from its operations.
The county prohibits residential construction in areas around the airport that experience high volumes of jet noise. The map used by county planners to determine the boundaries of the high-noise zone is based on a 1993 study. Draft plans to guide development around the future Metro Silver Line stops incorporate more recent information from a 2005 study.
Critics have argued that the noise maps the county uses are out of date and overly restrictive.
County planners, airport officials, and some supervisors hold that allowing homes near the airport is bad for both residents and the airport, a major economic engine for the county, region and state—jet noise is a nuisance to residents, and complaints to the FAA could result in restrictions on flight paths and hours of operation, limiting the airport’s business and competitiveness. They point to the history of the airports authority’s other airport, Reagan National, which is restricted to certain flight paths to limit impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
But development interests and other supervisors have argued that the noise maps the county uses are out of date, no longer accurately depict noise around the airport—and based on a prediction that one runway would be in a different place than it was eventually built.
The decision to conduct a new study is a reversal of the airports authority’s earlier stance. MWAA representatives had discouraged a new noise study, saying it was unnecessary and intended to allow homes closer to the airport. Current drafts of the county’s plans around its future Metro stops limit residential development around the future Loudoun Gateway station at the north end of airport property.
In June, the Board of Supervisors called for a new noise study. At the time, Michael Cooper, airports authority state and local government affairs manager, said Dulles Airport is “very happy to engage with the county on a discussion of how to help the county move forward with the board’s request, and we are willing and will cooperate.”
Now, the airports authority says the new study was prompted by several factors. Spokesman Rob Yingling said it comes in part because the airport could soon see aircraft landing and taking off from all three north-south runways simultaneously—and the airport’s plans for more cargo and nighttime business. These operational assumptions that had not been assessed in previous studies.
Yingling said it’s “something we’ve been talking about for a long time, the future development plans that we’re working towards that could include more cargo planes, larger wide-body aircraft, and more operations late at night in some cases overnight.”
“So, if you look at all those factors, and the benefits that the surrounding jurisdictions could have from an update to airport noise study, I think all those factors together are what’s pointing towards our intention to commission an update to the noise study, which was last undertaken before we did some of the major construction at Dulles,” Yingling said.
He said the study would involve input from the FAA, the airlines, and Loudoun and Fairfax counties. The airport will fund the study. Although the study’s details have not yet been hammered out, he said the work will probably take a year or longer, and could begin as soon as some time in 2018.