Someone REALLY hates airplanes in Washington, DC + other cool charts about planes


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

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.

Washington National Airport (DCA) gets a lot of noise complaints. And a ton of them come from just one family.
Washington National Airport (DCA) gets a lot of noise complaints. And a ton of them come from just one family.

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??



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.

Fewer total complaints at Dulles, but a higher percentage from a small group of residents.
Fewer total complaints at Dulles, but a higher percentage from a small group of residents.

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.

https://twitter.com/ATCPeter/status/909493505470349312

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.



Traffic Patterns

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 24-hour visualization of air traffic around Washington's National (DCA) Airport
A 24-hour visualization of air traffic around Washington’s National (DCA) Airport
Visualizing a day of traffic at Dulles Airport in Virginia
Visualizing a day of traffic at Dulles Airport in Virginia
Departures traffic over time from Dulles (IAD) Airport
Departures traffic over time from Dulles (IAD) Airport

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 never would've guessed the RWY 15/33 utilization was so high at DCA
I never would’ve guessed the RWY 15/33 utilization was so high at DCA

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.

Why is the Challenger 600 listed as a regional jet and showing up so much at DCA? Makes very little sense to me.
Why is the Challenger 600 listed as a regional jet and showing up so much at DCA? Makes very little sense to me.

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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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

6 Comments

  1. If you look up a CRJ registration with the FAA’s N number lookup, they’ll return the model number as a CL-600-something. CRJ is just the marketing name, but the official model number retains yeh CL-600 (the same way early MD-80s were sold as the MD-80 but the name plate said it was a DC-9-80). It’s not that they’re misidentified – the numbers are just reported using the official model numbers.

  2. Thanks for sharing this update and highlighting the impact that airline travel has on ordinary people plus the other commenters for sharing their knowledge. Regards, Alastair Majury

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