Low and loud: Government to study helicopter noise around nation’s capital

After complaints from residents in Virginia, Maryland and D.C., the Government Accountability Office will conduct a study of helicopter noise in and around the nation’s capital.

Local lawmakers, headed by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, had sent a letter to the GAO in January, saying “many of our constituents live with the impacts of regular helicopter noise that interrupts sleep patterns, causes their homes to shake and negatively impacts their quality of life.”

The complaints reported what seemed like a recent increase in the number of helicopter flights and the severity of noise.

“We understand that helicopter activity is an essential part of law enforcement, military and medical operations,” lawmakers said. “We also believe that, through information collection, analysis and coordination, we can identify strategies to minimize the negative impacts of helicopter activity without impeding the work of the agencies operating helicopters within the region.”

The letter from Norton, Virginia representatives Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer, and Maryland representatives Anthony Brown and David Trone, asked the GAO to analyze several aspects of helicopter traffic in the region:

  • The makes and models of helicopters on the market that generate the most noise and a determination whether they are being used locally.
  • Current helicopter flight paths and which neighborhoods are being most affected by helicopter noise.
  • The frequency of flights over neighborhoods, including information on each agency, and the times and flight altitudes.
  • The altitude at which helicopters currently fly in the region, compared with years past.
  • The current coordination between local agencies regarding flight paths and altitudes.
  • Viable options for noise mitigation, including modifications to current training practices that would reduce the number of training hours and nighttime hours required.

Thursday, Norton and her Virginia and Maryland announced the GAO had agreed to perform the study.

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