The Georgetown University Student Association has worked with the D.C. Fair Skies Coalition since August 2015 to combat noise disturbances caused by a 2013 shift of the Federal Aviation Administration’s route for flights in and out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The D.C. Fair Skies Coalition is comprised of seven of the affected neighborhood’s citizen associations: Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, Burleith, Colony Hill, Hillendale, Foxhall and Palisades.
The shift moved flight paths from over the Potomac River and industrial areas of northern Virginia closer to Georgetown, resulting in noise disturbances across northwest Washington. The impact of the changed routes was further aggravated by the authorization of round-the-clock arrivals and departures at the airport.
Ed Solomon, Commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, to which Georgetown belongs, said the noise has a significant impact on residents.
“When there’s a person outside, they have to pause [when speaking] because the planes are flying so low and also the planes are taking off earlier in the morning, before five o’clock and after midnight,” Solomon said. “Folks have noticed a major increase, not only has it gone on the last two years that we’ve noticed an increase, but specifically in the spring of 2015, more planes are flying over our communities.”
Solomon said the D.C. Fair Skies Coalition plans to fight the FAA’s decision through legal channels.
“We would hope to convince the FAA through expressing our concerns as well as through the legal route that we’ve taken so hopefully we can bring a resolution [and] have them revisit the routes that they have chosen to fly,” Solomon said.
Modeling its actions after those taken by Phoenix, Ariz. neighborhoods against the FAA last year, the coalition is seeking to take legal action through submitting a Petition for Review with the D.C. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The Coalition argues that the FAA’s decision not to review the impact of the 2013 flight path changes is unjust.
Although GUSA cannot be an official party in these actions because it cannot officially lobby as an organization, student leaders are helping in other capacities, including creating a website that will be operational later this semester.
GUSA Speaker of the Senate Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) stressed that GUSA’s primary motivation to support D.C. Fair Skies is improving neighborhood relations.
“With the general student body, I think it varies in terms of how important this issue is …” Khan said. “Since this is something of high importance to this neighborhood, it’s definitely something worth partnering up on, but … it just depends on in terms of legality to what extent we can get involved.”
GUSA Secretary of Campus Planning Ari Goldstein (COL ’18) said neighborhood relationships are particularly important as the university enters the next campus planning process.
“As we go into the next campus planning process and we engage in a critical semester for the campus plan, maintaining good relationships with neighbors and working together on issues of common interest will be especially important,” Goldstein said. “So GUSA is going to continue in D.C. Fair Skies Coalition, both out of concern for the problem of flight noise itself and out of a good will effort to engage with the neighborhood.”
GUSA aided the coalition by convincing the university to bear some of the financial costs of its legal effort.
Vice President for Government Relations and Community Engagement Chris Murphy wrote in an email to The Hoya that the university will support the coalition.
“We’ve committed to pay our share of the coalition’s legal expenses but no funds have been paid to date,” Murphy said.
Murphy declined to give an exact figure of how much the university plans to contribute.
Goldstein said for most students, the noise from planes is a fact of campus life, particularly on the south side of campus.
“I’ll go out to sit on the Healey Family Student Center patio and I hear them pretty constantly,” Goldstein said. “I also notice it when I give tours for Blue and Gray … and there’s just planes barreling overhead and so I normally will stop for a second and make a joke about it and then continue. It’s not that big of an obstruction to my experience at Georgetown, but it certainly is a nuisance and I know that for certain types of neighbors, it can be an especially significant problem.”
Melissa Frazee (COL ’17) said the issue of planes flying over the university is not particularly relevant to the student experience.
“I think that it’s just not an issue. I don’t hear planes in class … It just seems a little ridiculous, there are bigger issues,” Frazee said.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.