GAITHERSBURG, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - Many people living near Airpark in Montgomery County are hoping to drown out aircraft noise, with their complaints.
A group called, Citizens for Airpark Safety, which is made up of at least 50 residents, are pushing the county to help them curb the problem of what they say are too many small planes, mostly Cessnas that are practicing touch and go maneuvers, flying too low several hours during the day ruining what they say, is their quality of life.
Many of the residents have lived near Airpark for more than 20 years and tell FOX 5 that when they first moved here, it wasn’t too bad with aircrafts flying near their homes, but in the last couple of years, they say they started noticing an increase in aircraft noise, which they say exceeds the county’s noise limit for residential areas.
"It seems the pattern work, the training work and the planes are going over seemingly low and slow and loud," said Stephen Johnson who lives in Goshen Estates.
Johnson and his neighbor, Dale Tuttle, said that the only time they have any peace of mind is on a rainy or a snowy day or a cloudy day when no one is flying.
"It’s completely ungoverned uncontrolled and that’s what’s changed," said Tuttle. "It used to be an occasional nuisance now it’s all day long into the night, there are no restrictions."
The group also claims that there is no limit to when, how often or how many aircraft operate from Airpark.
On a typical sunny day, they counted a pattern of five to seven aircraft being operated mostly by student pilots, who are conducting overflights every 2 to 3 minutes below 1,000 ft.
They are also concerned about the touch and go maneuver, which involves landing on a runway and taking off again without coming to a full stop.
"Let’s prohibit touch and go landings for every aircraft not just training because you can fly to any of the other nearby airports and do pattern work and do training work and that would be a huge help and to be fair some flights will do that," said Tuttle. "That’s the biggest change we have seen in 25 years, where just a few training flights have now become over hundreds of overflights just doing a pattern-work every day."
Some of the other concerns the group is bringing up are the impact of the overflights going over two elementary schools nearby including Goshen and Judith Resnik Elementary School and how they say the flights are depositing lead.
Airpark is operated by the county’s revenue authority. In an email statement to FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan, CEO Keith Miller explained:
"We hear from neighbors regarding noise, and we understand there is often confusion about noise levels, and how it is measured.
How is noise defined? In summary, people measure an aircraft's noise passing over their house. However, the FAA has a standard metric for measuring noise. The metric is called the Day-Night Sound Level. The day-night average sound level (DNL) noise metric is used to reflect a person's cumulative exposure to sound over a 24-hour period, expressed as the noise level for the average day of the year on the basis of annual aircraft operations. The DNL noise metric provides a mechanism to describe the effects of environmental noise in a simple and uniform way. DNL is the standard noise metric used for all FAA studies of aviation noise exposure in airport communities.
The FAA has adopted DNL 65 dBA as the threshold of significant noise exposure, below which residential land uses are compatible. The 65 DNL is located on airpark property and was measured with a full part 150 study in the early 1990s. Since then, the number of operations has decreased, and the type of aircraft flying out of GAI is quieter.
Late last year, we entered into a partnership with FAA to respond to noise complaints. We respond to the initial complaint and then ask neighbors to send additional comments to the FAA via this link. https://noise.faa.gov/noise/pages/noise.html. The FAA will then respond directly to the neighbor.
The Maryland Aviation Administration conducts a count of the airpark traffic about every two years. The latest count was scheduled for 2020 and was delayed due to COVID. We are hopeful that the MAA will conduct a new count this year. The history of flight counts is available on our website (CLICK HERE). As you can see, the latest reports indicate that air traffic is less than 50% of its peak activity. Please note that each touch and go pass is counted as an operation. We do not have any data that supports the claims that operations have increased since the 2018 report.
The neighbors often refer to 1,000 feet over congested areas. However, aircraft in the process of taking off or landing are exempt from that requirement, and planes in the pattern are considered to be in the process of taking off or landing. The FAA's Flight Standard District Office (FSDO) is responsible for determining if an aircraft is not operating safely. Montgomery County Airpark and all general aviation airports are inspected regularly by the FSDO to ensure aircraft are operating safely."
Ayesha also contacted the Washington International Flight Academy, which is one of several flight schools located within Airpark that the citizens group says, trains student pilots.
In a statement from Ziv Levy, we were told:
"Washington International Flight Academy operates as a part 61 and 141 flight school. As a part 141 flight school, our programs are monitored and audited by the FAA periodically. Our top priority is to comply with FAR and safety procedures.
WIFA takes pride to serve in the community and always works to be a better neighbor. Please direct any questions or inquiries to Montgomery County Revenue Authority."