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Coronavirus partially to blame for uptick in airplane noise over Alexandria

As it turns out, the uptick in airplane noise over Alexandria is one of the many little side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At an update to the City Council last night, Steve Thayer, the city’s representative on the Reagan National Airport Community Working Group, said that there have been a few recent changes that may be causing locals to hear more planes overhead. On paper, airplanes leaving National Airport are not supposed to turn away from a path down the center of the Potomac until they hit a point south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Due to coronavirus’ impacts on the airline industry, Thayer said the Federal Aviation Administration briefly suspended rules keeping airplanes from deviating their designated flight path along the Potomac River.

“In 2019, the FAA published an advisory to air traffic controllers not to allow deviations,” Thayer said. “Unfortunately, while that was working, when COVID hit in order to save money and time for fuel they started allowing deviations. We’re now back to 80% of where we were pre-COVID. We’ve been talking with FAA and they’ve said they will be returning to pre-COVID protocols.”

Those deviations over Alexandria are also in part caused by updates to navigation tools, which like drivers following Google Maps instructions jamming up neighborhood streets, is caused by pilots using more GPS navigation than before.

Thayer explained that when the planes switched over to the newest generation of hardware, they switched to GPS over analog mapping, which pushes planes more frequently onto flight paths over the city.

Lastly, Thayer said the city is fighting to hold the line on keeping more late-night trips from leaving National Airport.

“[There’s an] increase in demand for late night and early morning flights,” Thayer said. “Because we are a federally operated airport, congress is the one body that has to approve any increases in those flights. The working group, along with the city and others, have objected to any increase in those flights.”

Thayer said the city increased in having fewer late-night/early morning slots granted than asked for, with no additional slots provided in 2020.

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