Hot off the presses, it is time to review the 2017 iteration of the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority (MWAA) Annual Aircraft Noise Report. The MWAA collects massive amounts of data around the pair of airports it operates (Reagan/DCA and Dulles/IAD) and aggregates it into a (mostly) coherent format to show where and when the planes are flying, what types of planes are in the skies over the region and what the overall impact is to residents. And the charts are incredible. The full 52-page report is embedded below but here are some of my favorite bits.
Noise complaints are up. A lot. And that makes some sense given that the new traffic patterns associated with NextGen ATC implementation are putting planes in different places than they used to be five years ago. Late night and early morning flights are slightly more prevalent, though not all that much the past couple years versus 5+ years ago.
Still, one resident managed to file 17,273 complaints during the year. That’s more than 47 per day, assuming no vacations. A second person at the same address added an extra 1,873 for good measure. Given roughly 395 arrivals and departures daily at DCA I suppose the number could’ve been higher. Maybe they saved the complaints for only the larger aircraft??
The noise levels over our house have hugely increased since we bought 5 yrs ago. BUT I live 5 mins from DCA! To complain would be ridiculous
— Christina Saull (@MiddleSeatView) September 17, 2017
Dulles faired slightly better overall, though the complaints were more disproportionally filed by fewer individuals. The winner there was a Poolesville, MD resident that filed 3,794 complaints (just over 10 per day) covering ~63% of the total for the airport.
The Washington Post ran a story and got quotes from a bunch of people suggesting that dismissing the complaints because they mostly came from a handful of people is stupid. I’m not going to dismiss all the complaints on spec but someone willing to spend that much time abusing a public reporting system does not necessarily deserve a disproportionate voice in deciding the future of service overall.
Perhaps the scoring can be more similar to Figure Skating or Gymnastics at the Olympics, where the top and bottom scores are dropped to give a more reasonable result. Still, even excluding the serial complainers the numbers are up according to MWAA data so that’s a challenge the city has to deal with.
I’m a sucker for good data visualizations and this report has a bunch of those throughout. Some of my favorites are these traffic pattern maps for each of the three airports.
A few surprises
There are three bits in the report that caught me off guard.
One is the use of an old US Airways livery plane in a stock photo of DCA. Not that it matters, but that livery is long dead now.
More significant is the 7.7% of arrivals at DCA in 2016 used the RWY 33 approach rather than the most standard 1/19 runway. Similarly, 6.7% of departures used the 15/33 runway. That’s way more action than I would’ve bet that strip got.
I’m also very surprised to see MWAA identify the “CL60” type as a regional jet (the Challenger 600 is a private/business aviation jet, not a regional) and also that it operated more than 5% of the flights at DCA through the year. If there really are 20 Challenger 600s coming and going every day at DCA that’s pretty impressive. It is also apparently down by half from the 2015 numbers. I cannot help but think that’s an error in the data somewhere.
UPDATE: I’ve been informed that many CRJs operate under the original CL60 type certificate. So those aircraft can distribute into the other CRJ categories (mostly CRJ7s, I believe) if someone wanted to do that legwork.
Full report is below if you’re having trouble sleeping.
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