An airplane flying near Bethesda Credit: FLICKR PHOTO VIA EHPIEN

Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett are calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to immediately revert back to flight paths for planes leaving Reagan National Airport that produce less noise in neighborhoods in Bethesda and Potomac.

Residents in county neighborhoods near the Potomac River have complained for much of the past year about a noticeable increase in noise from planes. They say the noise is directly attributable to the use of an automated flight path system called NextGen beginning in 2015 that has resulted in more planes departing Reagan National Airport flying over neighborhoods instead of over the river.

Residents in Washington, D.C., and across the river in Virginia have made similar complaints, leading the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which operates the airport, to form a community roundtable group with representatives from local governments, including Ken Hartman, director of the county’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.

In a letter Wednesday sent to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Van Hollen and Leggett wrote they understand the FAA is collaborating with the MWAA community group, but are disappointed “no action has yet been taken by the FAA to mitigate the impacts.”

“Residents simply cannot wait any longer for changes to be made,” Van Hollen and Leggett wrote.

In a May 5 letter to Huerta, Van Hollen catalogued many of the complaints he’s heard from residents such as Mary Britt, who lives in Bethesda’s Tulip Hill neighborhood. In May, Britt told Bethesda Beat she and other neighbors have recorded as many as 30 planes per hour flying over the neighborhood.


FAA put the NextGen computerized guiding system into effect to boost efficiency of flight operations at airports around the country. Hartman said the county is hearing anecdotal reports that planes are flying lower than before over the neighborhoods, even as they gain altitude before turning east over Bethesda or west over the Woodrock neighborhood in Potomac, which is off MacArthur Boulevard.

“Residents living under these flight paths do not sleep well, they can’t hold conversations in a normal speaking voice, they can’t work from home, they can’t concentrate on homework, and they can’t open their windows,” Van Hollen and Leggett wrote. “In short, they are being deprived of their right to quiet enjoyment of their property. This is simply not an acceptable or equitable situation.”

Last month, WAMU reported that the FAA will soon propose altering flight paths from Reagan National Airport. In their letter Wednesday, Van Hollen and Leggett called for immediate changes.


“We call upon the FAA to take immediate action,” the two wrote. “We urge a return to pre-NextGen flight patterns until a solution can be devised that does not ruin the lives of those who live below the current paths. Residents deserve immediate relief from the intolerable effects of NextGen.”