Arlington moves to control helicopter noise

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Local,Virginia,Ben Giles
Arlington resident Ed Hilz has sent more than 400 complaints to the Federal Aviation Administration in the last two decades, one for every day helicopters noisily fly over his home in Fairlington. For years, there was no response.

Local officials have noticed a rise in complaints about helicopter noise. But efforts to address those complaints are hampered by the fact that no one charts data on helicopter flights over local residential areas, said Mary Hynes, aviation policy liaison for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

"Nobody's gathering it for the region, so the FAA can't really make adjustments because there isn't anything helpful that says 'Here's where the real problem is,' " she said.

At a forum tonight in Arlington, Hynes will present a plan for a new community input system that would track the number of noise complaints the FAA receives, and where the complaints come from.

By finding hot spots of complaints, officials would have the data needed to give merit to the gripes of local residents. The data could also be used to work with the FAA to change air traffic routes.

Hynes has identified a New York company that has already created the input system she desires, but MWCOG officials are still searching for funding, and it's unclear how much the system would cost to implement.

Helicopters executing military exercises or other daily operations will typically follow FAA-designated paths over major highways and bodies of water, such as the Potomac River. The routes are specifically designed to avoid interference with local homes.

But helicopters traveling cross-country can fly unrestricted from those paths, sometimes over neighborhoods like Fairlington. Hynes, who's also an Arlington County Board member, said she's also heard complaints from residents in Crystal City and Rock Spring. Fairfax County officials are also taking notice, and Supervisor Penny Gross will attend the forum, held in the Arlington County Board room at 7 p.m.

Hynes said cross-country flights most often cause disturbances for residents like Hilz, who sent his latest complaint to the FAA on Feb. 17, when six helicopters flew over his home in one day.

"It just seems questionable that the military would always have to fly cross-country," he said. "We haven't really gotten a good answer from the FAA, and it just seems to be a mockery of these established FAA routes."

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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