Letter to the Editor: Disturbing the peace


To the editor:

The noise starts before dawn. For the next 16 to 18 hours, well past dark, it continues, loud and invasive. It is the sound of airplanes landing or taking off over residential areas of Alexandria. Decibel levels recorded for flights over Old Town regularly exceed 75, which, according to the city noise code, would be illegal at street level.

This is a fairly recent development in our city, within the last year or so, ever since the Federal Aviation Administration, without public comment, switched from radar to satellite-based GPS for its navigation system. The result has been to create a rigid conveyor belt of flights, hundreds a day, flying over Alexandria from Reagan-National airport, as frequently as every 30 seconds at peak times.

The piercing drone is impossible to ignore, whether one is sitting outside, walking on the streets, studying in a classroom, eating at a restaurant or having a conversation inside a house. Studies reveal that regular exposure to the noise of low-flying airplanes affects physical and psychological health. It’s happening here. Not to mention impacting property values. Try marketing a house if it’s known that you live pinned under a flight path.

Living near an airport obviously requires a certain tolerance for flight noise. But the new flight path has amplified this to distressing levels. I have lived in Old Town for more than a decade and never before has flight noise been so incessant and loud. People say, ‘Get used to it.’ No.

An area-wide working group (www.flyreagan.com/dca/dca-reagan-national-community-working-group) has proposed flight path changes that would keep ascending planes over the river longer, instead of allowing them to quickly veer out over residential areas. That is encouraging. But public pressure is needed to speed up changes. File complaints with the airport (www.flyreagan.com/dca/dca-reagan-national-submit-noise-complaint.) Write your state and national legislators, your city council members, and ask that this issue receive attention on the public agenda. See what other communities are doing — in Phoenix, Arizona, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, lawsuits against the FAA have brought relief to neighborhoods.

Alexandria admirably wants to become a certified eco-city. But that’s a pipe dream unless something is done about the noise pollution from above.

-Tom O’Neill, Alexandria



  1. Reagan National Airport is a terrible neighbor. I have lived in Old Town for over two decades and remember when the airport shut down at 9 PM with a few exceptions. Now, thanks to the GPS system, there is often a parade of planes from 9 PM to 11 PM, especially on Sundays. In addition to the noise, there are interruptions to television signals ( I do not have cable) and WIFI. Occasionally stations go out completely for several days which requires a call to the station to remedy.

    The working group gives me some hope but I suspect the online complaints go directly to a spam box. Calling elected representatives gives you the opportunity to vent to a hapless intern but the reality is elected representatives go where the money is, and the long money is at the airport.

    Unless the Koch Brothers or George Soros buy property on Fairfax Street, it’s going to be a long, hard battle.

  2. Tom and Dan said it all. I’m in total agreement. I’ve lived here in Old Town for seven years. The waterfront, shops, restaurants, history are amazing. Trader Joe’s and Harris Teeters are just a couple blocks away from me. What a wonderful place to live— EXCEPT for the constant airplane noise that hits us day and night. Yes, we get a reprieve when the takeoffs head out toward Arlington every 4 hours or so. (The noise of arriving planes is tolerable). Still these planes and noise severely affect my lifestyle. I spend increasing amounts of time in the house partially shielded from the noise, and then wear noise cancelling headphones when I go out for walks. I’ve watched the planes take off and they basically follow the Old Town coast, rarely venturing out toward the middle of the river. South West Air pilots are the worst. They fly as close to the town as possible. Some of the other airlines fly in the middle of the river from time to time and this makes for a huge reduction in noise. Look across the river and you see Blue Plains Water Treatment Plant. There is no residential housing until you get to National Harbor. It’s quiet over there. And yet, because of the strict adherence to the new GPS system, pilots fly as close as possible to our high density neighborhood! What a simple change of moving planes a few hundred yards over to the middle of the river could have made. But The FAA simply has no concern for the neighborhoods they impact. They instituted the new GPS system without even alerting citizens or seeking comments. DCA Reagan Airport is now undergoing a massively expensive upgrade in facilities. This airport is permanent, friends. The Nationwide GPS is all interconnected for maximum fuel savings and minimum travel time. The die is cast. I’m making plans now to move from Old Town Alexandria in the next couple of years, simply because of the noise. I don’t see that using the complaint website or talking to our Representatives will have any impact. The noise problems are well known to all. There is simply too much money and political influence behind this airport.