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Transportation

Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore Leaders Urge Action on BWI Noise Concerns

A traveler walks past a Southwest Airlines airplane as it taxies from a gate at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on October 11, 2021. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

In response to growing complaints from people who live near — and not so near — Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport, top local officials urged the General Assembly to address the noise and potential health impacts associated with low-flying aircraft.

Members of two legislative panels were told that the implementation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Next Generation Air Transportation System, or “NextGen,” in 2015 has triggered a significant increase in the number of flights over portions of Howard and Anne Arundel counties and other Central Maryland communities.

Planes are “able to fly lower and their approach is different,” Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) said during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee last week. “It’s generating engine noise in areas where they weren’t used to it before.”

Lam displayed graphics which depicted relatively more diffuse takeoff and landing patterns prior to NextGen and more concentrated patterns since its inception.

Lam has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 1103, that would create a Maryland Aviation Infrastructure Impacts Commission to study the “public health, medical, and environmental impacts” of aircraft on surrounding communities and make recommendations. A companion measure, sponsored by Del. Terri Hill (D-Howard), was discussed in the House this week.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D), Anne Arundel Executive Steuart Pittman (D) and Baltimore County Executive Johnny A. Olszewski (D) testified in support of Lam’s proposal.

Health experts told lawmakers that the physical and mental health impacts of airplane noise and emissions are well-documented, and have disproportionate impacts on airport workers, children and seniors.

In a letter to the General Assembly, Maryland Aviation Administration Executive Director Ricky D. Smith said significant pieces of the proposed legislation would duplicate activities already being performed by the state. For example, the state “already employs a robust noise monitoring program for the communities surrounding BWI Marshall which is federally funded and exists as part of a comprehensive FAA-authorized aircraft noise mitigation plan,” he wrote.

Smith questioned whether noise-reduction recommendations put forward by the commission would be effective, since “the FAA has exclusive jurisdiction of airspace and is the sole organization in the United States responsible for the development, review, and implementation of flight procedures.”

In a letter to the legislature, Southwest Airlines’ head of governmental affairs, David Richardson, said Lam’s bill would create “an unnecessary and duplicative layer of review, which could undermine the future success of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, which is presently one of Maryland’s greatest economic engines.”

A “roundtable” organization was established in 2017, at the FAA’s suggestion, to facilitate dialogue between the airport and surrounding communities, but Lam said little of value has come from those discussions.

“Unfortunately the FAA… has not been a reliable partner in these discussions and very little has been done,” he said.