DC Fair Skies

DCA Airplane Assessment Study

The DC Department of Energy and Environment hosted a public meeting recently to provide a summary of a two-year long assessment of aircraft noise on the District.  Randy Waldeck, an acoustic engineer with CSDA Design Group, provide an overview of the just completed study.  There were several important take-aways from the meeting:

  • The changes the FA made in flights paths of departing and arriving plans to Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in 2015 increased noise by around 2 dB in communities along the River including Georgetown to the low 60s dB, the level of loud speech.  The resulting total noise when averaged over a long period did not meet the FAA’s 65 dB DNL (Day Night Level) standard of when noise is considered to have a significant impact.  While an individual plane may sound like a rock band going overhead and interfere with speech and sleep it is the average dB per day over a year that the FAA measures.


  • The school measurements showed that several class rooms did not meet ANSI classroom noise criteria established to ensure exterior noise did not interfere with a good learning environment.  Noisy class rooms have been shown to impede learning.


  • The residential measurements showed that the sound levels in bedrooms were high enough to awaken 12-33% of the population, depending on location.  Randy explained that the results are a  probability % because sound sound sleepers might not be awakened by the noise levels in those residences while light sleepers might be.


  • Approximately 400 flights per day from DCA produce noise in NW DC at or above the 65 dB level which can interfere with normal speech and hearing outside.


  • The FAA has performed an extensive study of aircraft noise, its impact on communities, and the adequacy of the current 65 dB DNL standard.  The study was completed two years ago but has not been released by the FAA.  If released it may require the FAA to reevaluate its 65dB DNL standard.


  • The study contains a number of suggestions for noise mitigation including revising the North Flow departure, reducing North Flow flights from nearly 70% to 50%, climbing faster after departure, and revising approach procedures in South flow.


  • Marcio Duffles, the Ward three Representative to the DCA Working Group, and Rick Murphy the Ward two representative, explained the purpose and activities of the Working Group.  Marcio mentioned that considerable progress had been made on the South Flow approach but the recent suit by the State of MD had caused progress to halt  Rick mentioned that the WG can only make recommendations to the FAA and a recommendation to change the North Flow departure flight path had received no response from the FAA to date.




The Coalition of community groups, including CAG, seeks by litigation and administrative means to reduce the noise created by aircraft departing and landing at National Airport.

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The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on July 20, 2018 corrected one inconsequential factual  error in its opinion dismissing our appeal as untimely but reaffirmed its procedural ruling.   Our request for a rehearing by the entire Court was also denied.  Consideration is being given to a further appeal to the US Supreme Court.


CAG Files Petition in case CAG, et al vs FAA Pending Review

The Citizens Association of Georgetown, neighboring community groups and Georgetown University filed a Petition for Rehearing in the case by CAG, et al vs FAA pending in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.  The Petition takes issue with the decision of a three-judge panel of that Court dismissing the suit challenging the FAA’s institution in 2015 of a new flight path over Georgetown and nearby communities as not timely.  The Court found that the community did not have reasonable grounds for filing late because of the publication in the back pages of the Washington Post of two small legal notice announcing a study of flight paths around the DC Metroplex.  The Petition argues that the FAA publication of the new departure routes over Georgetown was the relevant final order from which Petitioners did appeal within the prescribed time limit.  Furthermore even if the relevant  order was the FAA Order concluding the preceding study Petitioners contend and they and  their elected representatives had no knowledge of that study, newspaper publication of legal notices should not discharge the FAA’s obligations to involve the community in its rulemaking and  therefore good cause existed for Petitioners not appealing until the flights were actually implemented and flown.  Petitioners hope that the panel that decided the case will review certain factual errors in its decision and proceed to review the merits of Petitioners' claims and failing that providing an opportunity for the entire Court to consider the case.

Click Here to view the petition. 

A Decision in CAG v. FAA

As you know, the FAA changed the departure flight path from National Airport in 2015 adversely impacting a large portion of Northwest DC with nearly constant loud aircraft noise. The Coalition promptly filed a Petition for Review in 2015 with the US Court for the DC Circuit upon learning of the change and hearing the noise increase it produced.   

On Tuesday, March 27th the Court rendered its opinion. Unfortunately, the Court did not reach the merits of the case and dismissed the Petition for Review as untimely. It did so despite the lack of notice to any elected DC Government Official and the efforts by the FAA to ensure no one in the community was aware of the plan to make the LAZIR route the flight path for all northbound departures. 

The Court found that two small notices posted in the back pages of the Washington Post of the intent to do an Environmental Assessment of the entire DC Metroplex and the fact that one had been completed were adequate notice of the proposed flight path. The only support for that decision is an old Supreme Court Clean Water case which sanctioned publication as a means of providing notice but did not state that it was sufficient to satisfy NEPA’s requirements that agencies make “diligent efforts to involve the public”. In this case, the FAA made diligent efforts to ensure no one in DC was aware of the new flight path until it was an accomplished fact.  

The Coalition will consider what, if any, steps need to be considered next, but requesting rehearing by the Court and pursuing our Administrative Petition with the FAA are being considered. The Opinion is found below. 


Your generous support of DC Fair Skies Coalition is greatly appreciated.   

Contributions to support the ongoing effort to combat aircraft noise are welcome. 

Listen to the January 11th Oral Argument 

The Oral Argument in Citizens Association of Georgetown, et al. vs. Federal Aviation Administration in the Federal  Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit was held on Jan 11 at 9:00. CAG, joined by nearby civic associations have challenged the northbound departure route change that has brought a large increase in noise to our community and this is our chance to persuade the Court to require the FAA to cease using this new route.

Listen to the 40-minute argument HERE.

According to CAG General Council Richard Hinds the Court seemed to be sympathetic to our arguments about the lack of notice to the community and all DC elected officials (except Congresswoman Norton) of the new departure flight path and the misleading correspondence between Councilmember Jack Evans and the airport authority in 2013.  However, the outcome can not be predicted by the Court’s aggressive questioning of the attorneys for both sides. Listen and decide who won!

The Court usually takes several months to craft an opinion that the panel finds acceptable. A quick decision would probably be unfavorable since we carry the burden of proving our appeal was timely or we had reasonable grounds for appealing when we did.


Northwest DC Neighborhood Associations file Reply Brief lambasting FAA

Residents of communities near the Potomac including Georgetown are increasingly subjected to excessive aircraft noise, eroding the quality of life and damaging property values. In Spring 2015, the FAA authorized a new northern flight path called LAZIR that brings planes over Georgetown and Georgetown University and nearby communities including Foggy Bottom, Foxhall, Hillandale, Burleith, Colony Hill and Palisades as early as 5 am and well after midnight. The number of flights has also increased. The resulting significant increase in aircraft noise is disruptive to the peace and quiet of all residents near the new flight path.

As a result of residents’ growing frustration with this nightly elevation in noise levels, in August 2015, Citizens Association of Georgetown and the other communities near the Potomac River, joined by Georgetown University, filed a Petition for Review of the new flight path with the DC Federal Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the new northern route as unlawful. The CAG vs FAA, DC Cir Case No. 15-1285. The Petitioners also formed the DC Fair Skies Coalition to pursue aircraft noise mitigation and filed a formal petition with the FAA seeking relief from the aircraft noise this new route has caused. Not only are residents seeking relief from this noise, but Mayor Bowser, City Councilman Jack Evans and all at large Council members declared their support for an immediate change to this flight path and co-signed the petition. (You can review the petition here, and the appendix here.)

The Coalition had hoped to come to a settlement with the FAA via mediation but unfortunately mediation failed. As a result, the Coalition filed its Opening Brief with the Court of Appeals. (You can view the brief at DCFairSkies.org). The brief argues that the FAA improperly instituted LAZIR without the required environmental review of noise impacts and did so without any notice to the impacted communities or their elected representatives. The brief explains why an environmental review of LAZIR is required and was not performed and seeks a Court order requiring the FAA to revert to the former flight path for northern departures until the required review is performed.

In May 2017 the Coalition filed its reply brief, lambasting the FAA (click here to read the brief). The brief argues that the FAA improperly instituted the flight path without the required environmental review of noise impacts and did so without any notice to the impacted communities or their elected representatives. The brief explains why an environmental review of the flight path is required and was not performed and seeks a Court order requiring the FAA to revert to the former flight path for northern departures until the required review is performed

The next step in the litigation process is for the Court to schedule oral argument. We expect oral argument to be scheduled in the Fall.


What can I do to help?


2. REPORT THE FLIGHT  If there is a particularly noisy flight, especially early in the morning or late at night, please report it. Our case will be strengthened with more reports.

The complaint form can be found at: http://bit.ly/DCAnoise

The "Noise Information Office" can also be contacted at 703-417-1204.

If you want to see and provide detailed information on the planes that bothered you, go to the DCA webtracker that provides real time flight data to and from DCA on a one hour delayed basis:  http:// webtrak5. bksv. com/ dca

The tracker provides data on flight path, airline, type of plane, altitude as it passes Georgetown, and the noise registered at the ground near Visitation School in West Georgetown. Anything over 65 dBA is loud and can be heard all the way to Rock Creek park. You can rewind the flight information to a particular past time period,  You can also link directly to the complaint form from the flight tracker.

Click on the "Investigate" button just below "Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport".  Scroll all the way down and click on "Show Complaint Form" and the complaint form will pop up.

Citizens Association of Georgetown is a non-profit civic organization representing the interests of Georgetown residents. CAG’s members, programs, and advocacy make Georgetown safer, more beautiful, and more connected.

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