Members of the D.C. Fair Skies Coalition, including Georgetown community members, argued at the D.C. Circuit Court on Thursday against flight routes out of Reagan National Airport that have led to increased noise over the Georgetown neighborhood.
The oral argument marks the most recent development in a lawsuit filed by local neighborhood groups and Georgetown University challenging northbound flight routes out of DCA. The routes, launched by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2013 to save flight time and reduce fuel emissions, direct planes in a scattered pattern over Washington, D.C.-area neighborhoods. The suit seeks to suspend a northern route and reinstate the prior flight path, which tracked up the west side of the Potomac River.
Community members in the D.C. area have opposed the route, called LAZIR, maligning the increased air traffic and noise. Activists formed the D.C. Fair Skies Coalition, which aims to revert the new flight route back to its original path along the west side of the Potomac and “restore the peace and quiet of established and historic neighborhoods in D.C. and the safety of their residents,” according to the coalition’s website.
Roughly 23.6 million passengers travelled through Reagan airport in 2016, according to data recorded by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The coalition urged the D.C. Circuit in January 2017 to discard the new routes on the grounds that the agency had not properly assessed the noise and air pollution from planes flying planes over neighborhoods, including Hillandale, Burleith, Georgetown, Colony Hill, Foxhall, Foggy Bottom and the Palisades.
The coalition has also argued that the FAA did not properly involve the D.C. community before implementing the route. Since the court case was originally filed in August 2015, the FAA has failed to have it dismissed on grounds the groups had filed it too late.
The FAA declined to reverse the new flight route six days prior to the oral argument last week.
Christopher Murphy, vice president of government relations and community engagement at Georgetown University, has been actively involved with the coalition, and is pleased with the citywide support the coalition has garnered.
“Support for the D.C. Fair Skies Coalition has been overwhelming. I can’t think of another issue facing our community that has united so many different neighborhoods, citizens associations, elected leaders, and other important institutions that call the District home,” Murphy wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Ari Goldstein (COL ’18), the only Georgetown student in attendance at the Thursday hearing, became involved with the D.C. Fair Skies Coalition in 2015. As a Blue and Gray tour guide, Goldstein said the planes’ new route causes disruptions at least once during each of his tours.
“All the time when I’m giving tours I have to stop and wait for a plane to pass, and it’s really awkward,” Goldstein said. “On almost every single tour I get a question from a prospective parent like, ‘Is it always like this? Do you just get used to this?’ and it’s an awkward question to answer.”
Murphy said he is optimistic about the court’s decision.
“We are hopeful the Court will direct the FAA to go back to the beginning and run an open and inclusive process to consider changes to routes — but this time ensure District residents and other impacted organizations like the University have a say,” Murphy wrote.