‘The noise is constant’: Montgomery County Airpark noise keeps generating complaints

It wasn’t always this bad.

That’s what Catherine Wallenmeyer, leader of the Citizens For Airpark Safety in Montgomery County, said about the noise from the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“The noise is constant” said Wallenmeyer, describing the aircraft noise as “unrelenting” from around 7 a.m. to, sometimes, 11:30 p.m.

The Citizens for Airpark Safety represents a group of community associations near the public airport.

Wallenmeyer, who has lived in Gaithersburg for over two decades, said the noise from the airpark has never been as loud or as frequent as it is now. She is familiar with the sentiment that people who live near airports should expect to live with airport noise.

“The community has been called whiners over this situation,” she said. “While I did sign up to live near an airport, I did not sign up for increased training operations.”

She is referring to training flights operated by the airport’s flight school.

Wallenmeyer said the biggest annoyance is the traffic generated by training exercises known as “touch and go’s,” a maneuver in which pilots touch down, and then take off again without coming to a full stop.

In one post on the community group’s Facebook page, Wallenmeyer posted a map from FlightAware.com, which provides information on air traffic, with the comment, “Wondering why it sounds like a war zone today … ”

The Washington International Flight Academy (WIFA) operates out of the airport and offers courses leading to private and commercial pilot licenses. According to its webpage, WIFA has been operating from the airpark since 1989. The airpark itself is owned and operated by the Montgomery County Revenue Authority, which was created in 1957.

The Montgomery County Airpark is holding a virtual public meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. Notification of the meeting was posted on the airpark’s web page. Until Monday, no agenda was posted, and there is no information on the agenda as to who will conduct the meeting and who will be speaking.

According to Montgomery County Council staff, the county code doesn’t have any specific guidance on requirements for the airpark’s public meeting notification process other than information must be posted “no later than 24 hours before the meeting.”

The initial notification of the meeting stated that participants would include representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Maryland Aviation Administration and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a Frederick-based organization that advocates on behalf of — as the name suggests — aircraft owners and pilots. No names were listed.

On the agenda posted Monday, there is a list of topics including “Noise,” but there is no indication of whether the meeting will provide an opportunity for residents to comment or ask questions in real time.

“We’re seeking immediate change to the operations at the airport that minimizes aircraft noise,” Wallenmeyer said, and “maximizes safety.”

The airpark’s web page features a Q&A on noise and safety, and states the following:

The FAA makes a distinction between noise and safety that the Community does not. When the Community hears a loud plane and is disturbed by the noise there is also a concern that the plane is loud because it is operating too low or in an unsafe manner. The FAA considers noise to be a normal function of plane and airport operations and so long as the pilot is following established flight standards for the type of aircraft being operated, then there are no safety concerns to be addressed. The 1000 feet and 1500 feet altitudes have been determined by the FAA to be necessary and appropriate for aircraft operations at this airpark.

WTOP reached out to the Montgomery County Revenue Authority for information, but did not get a response.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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