Officials from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority have briefed county supervisors on new projections of noise around Dulles International Airport—but supervisors will not take any action to protect residents around the airport from noise for now.
The airports authority recently finished a new study on noise expected around Dulles Airport when it is eventually fully built out, with a fifth runway that is not yet built, and more than a million flights a year—about four times the number of flights last year. That study, compared to previous projections, shows more of Loudoun hearing substantial jet noise.
That includes jet noise stretching as far north as Selden Island and the Potomac River, crossing over the 1757 Golf Club, One Loudoun, and Bles Park, where previously that level of noise stopped short near the Barn at One Loudoun and Savin Hill Drive off Russell Branch Parkway. There is also slightly more noise expected near Loudoun’s easternmost Metro station, and further south and west of the airport, such as over Mercer Middle School.
Historically, the county government has generally forbidden residential development in the areas expected to be most affected by jet noise, both to protect the quality of life of those residents and to protect the airport from complaints to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The really good news for Loudoun County right now is you have been so effective with your land use policies up to his point that you can easily accommodate the existing noise contours, and overlay these new future noise contours without any significant upset in what you’ve been doing so far,” said airports authority state and local government affairs manager Michael Cooper.
The advent of new GPS air traffic control technology is expected to open up new air travel routes around the airport, and new possibilities, such as three airplanes landing at once on three parallel runways—meaning, in some places, three airplanes at once passing overhead. That includes over some of Loudoun’s major developments, like Silver District West, a planned development along the Dulles Greenway between Loudoun’s two future Metro stations.
“Around Silver District West, you’re in the simultaneous arrivals path, and those arrivals are coming past that property at an altitude of about 400 to 600 feet,” Cooper said. “The Washington Monument is 550 feet high, just as a point of reference.”
Residential is not proposed for much of that development, based on expected jet noise.
Board of Supervisor Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said previous boards have been protective of the airport, “as we should be.”
“I’ve seen so many cases around the world—and even Regan National is an example—where traffic changes, patterns change, noise complaints rise, and then next thing you know, there’s restrictions on the airport because so many people are complaining to the FAA.”
But while the old noise projections are incorporated into Loudoun County’s zoning rules, the new projections are not yet. County staff members have recommended referencing the noise study in the county’s new comprehensive plan, which would allow future Boards of Supervisors to consider its noise impacts when considering applications for residential development.
Staff members have also recommended updating the county’s zoning when the airport approaches the full buildout reflected in the study’s projections—although airport officials have warned in the past that county supervisors should plan based on the airport’s growth, rather than its state today.