Manassas council delays action on airport expansion as noise concerns mount

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A rendering of what the Manassas Airport terminal could look like after an expansion for commercial passenger service. (Courtesy Avports via InsideNova)
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Noise concerns dominated a public hearing on the plan to bring commercial flights to Manassas Regional Airport, as the City Council paused any action on the proposal until its July 24 meeting.

Residents from nearby housing developments in both the city and Prince William County said the additional flights would add to a growing noise problem in their area, which is near several new data centers.

Airport officials said they won’t know how much additional noise will be created by the flights because they don’t yet know what aircraft the commercial carriers would be using. But they also say that, at most, the long-term plan would result in a 10% increase in overall flight operations at the airport, which already receives the largest general aviation aircraft in operation.

That didn’t matter to concerned residents who asked that the city slow down to further examine the potential noise impacts before agreeing to the 40-year lease deal with airport operations company Avports.

Dale Browne, president of the homeowners association for the Great Oak community, said his neighborhood has already seen increases in ambient noise from nearby Amazon data centers and their generators, complaints that have already gotten the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to reconsider certain provisions of the county’s noise ordinance. Additional flights would only compound the noise and traffic problem, he said.

“Please defer any vote or approval of the airline passenger proposal until fully coordinated have been completed, accepted and made public,” he said Monday.

The plan would bring scheduled commercial service through budget carriers in a phased approach. In the first phase, Avports would renovate the airport’s existing terminal building for commercial service and security screening while the airport commission obtained certification for scheduled service from the Federal Aviation Administration. Within the next two years, officials say, carriers could be running about 10 flights per day out of the airport.

Once the market’s been proven, phase two would begin. Avports would then foot the $75-125 million bill to expand the existing terminal building and parking lot to create capacity for as many as 30 new flights per day. Before the expansion can begin, though, the airport commission will need to submit the project for environmental review, a process that would include studies for noise and other impacts.

All the while, according to the proposed lease agreement, Avports would be paying over $700,000 annually in base rent to the airport’s general fund, which Airport Director Juan Rivera said would be more than enough to cover the added costs.

Councilmembers had mostly expressed enthusiasm when Avports presented their plans earlier this month, but many residents on Monday asked the council to slow down and study the impacts before signing on. The council took no action on the franchise agreement other than to continue the item to its July 24 meeting.

County resident Maggie Hall said she lives right in the flight path of the airport, and she is worried about additional noise and air pollution.

“I’m the neighbor that’s going to carry the load, and I really hope you all can come up with something good about the noise. If it’s noisy, I’m not sure what that’s going to do to the property value of my house, and I’m not the only one,” she told the council.

Several business interests were on the other side of the issue, saying the commercial flights would bring more tourism and jobs to the area.

“There are thousands of small airports across the country that would be expressing gratitude for any air service planning to come to their facility,” Prince William Chamber of Commerce Chair Bob Sweeney said. “Air transportation is a major employer, providing economic benefits and … high occupancy rates … The economic impact and social benefits of bringing commercial air flights are too innumerable to list, but what can be summarized is that bringing tourism and trade to any new area will foster the growth of that area significantly.”

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