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Fairfax County board opposes push for longer flights at National Airport

Dulles International Airport at night (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

More local legislators are pushing back against a federal proposal to allow more long-distance flights at National Airport (DCA).

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously yesterday (Tuesday) to oppose the push to increase the number of flights that travel beyond 1,250 miles from the airport in Arlington.

In a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, the board argued that the effort would undermine Dulles International Airport (IAD), resulting in “detrimental” impacts on the local economy.

The legislation pushed by the Capital Access Alliance, a coalition of business groups, continues a long-running battle over slot and perimeter rules originally enacted in the 1960s.

The board argues that changes would disrupt the balance between the region’s two major airports and compromise the operating environment for air traffic. The letter also says flight paths for arrivals and departures to the south of DCA have caused major noise issues over residential areas in the county following the implementation of a federal Next Generation Air Transportation System, also known as NextGen.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay emphasized that the issue resolves around public safety. He said that many airline pilots that fly out of DCA say that is one of the “most dangerous” airports to fly in and out of because its designed for specifically-sized airports in the landing area.

“This is not just wrong to impose these changes without a lot of public input, it’s not just wrong for parochial reasons, but it’s wrong to do it in the name of public safety as well, and I think that’s one of the things that’s important for us to emphasize,” McKay said.

Proposing to allow 28 more long-distance flights out of DCA, the bill was introduced on May 10 by Reps. Burgess Owens and Hank Johnson, who represent Utah and Georgia, respectively. It has already faced opposition from Virginia’s senators, a community group looking at the airport’s noise issues, and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages both DCA and IAD.

Congress is expected to consider the proposal this fall.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said the issue of airport noise is particularly problematic.

“Mason District is not on a direct path of the airplanes for National, but we are getting increasing numbers of complaints about airplane noise and helicopter noise. So, I’m glad that we’re stepping up and doing this,” Gross said.

Storck said he hopes other efforts can be undertaken to tackle airplane noise, especially in his district. He noted that County Executive Bryan Hill is working with Alexandria and Arlington officials to enlist a consultant that will study ways to mitigate noise impacts.

The county says that maintaining existing perimeter and slot rules is necessary in order to spur growth at Dulles, which is supported by the arrival of Metro’s $6 billion Silver Line extension.

“The interconnectedness of Virgnia’s and the mid-Atlantic’s aviation system makes the continued success of both airports vital to both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Washington Metropolitan Region,” the letter states. “As such, we request your support in preventing further efforts to modify the perimeter and slot rules to protect the balance between the capacities of our region’s airports.”

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