The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday that it will start requiring the nation's airports, including BWI, to measure noise in a new way before beginning expansion projects.
In a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, FAA officials specifically mentioned Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which has at least two major expansion projects on its long-term schedule.
It remains to be seen what affect the policy change will have. BWI officials said they do not know how it will be implemented.
"We have to wait and see exactly what the proposal is from the FAA," said Michael West, the Maryland Aviation Administration's associate administrator for planning and engineering.
The new policy will require airports to measure single-event noise -- or noise generated by one passing airplane -- in addition to averaging noise levels in specific locations over a 24-hour period.
Residents and local politicians have complained for years that only taking an average reading -- called an 'ldn' -- doesn't accurately reflect noise levels because homes without a high number of fly-overs will not show up in statistics.
"You don't get woken up in the middle of the night by an ldn," said Brad Fitch, press secretary for U.S. Representative Tom McMillen, D-4th. "You get woken up by an aircraft."
"For some, the single event level is as important as an ldn," said Lewin Maddox, Glen Burnie representative to the BWI Neighbors Committee, "particularly if you are one that doesn't have a lot of planes flying over."
West said airport officials have no problems with the FAA's ruling.
"We will follow the FAA in doing whatever analysis is appropriate," he said. "We have no problems with it. It will provide some better information. What it affects in terms of projects, I can't tell you."
The FAA's policy change is limited to Environmental Impact Statements, which are required by the FAA and the Environmental Protection Agency before major airport projects are started. It will not affect the redrawing of the "noise zone," the 12,100 acres around BWI the state deems too noisy for homes.
Airport officials are working on updating the noise zone, which is measured in ldn contour lines. Homes in areas measuring 70 decibels or higher over a 24-hour period are eligible for special state programs to help residents buy new homes.
Local officials said they want the airport to measure single-event noise in redrawing the noise zone. They said the FAA's decision could open the door to state legislation requiring the new noise standard to be considered in re-drawing the noise zone.
The policy could affect upcoming BWI projects, such as a controversial 1,000-foot extension of its east-west runway. State officials agreed to conduct an environmental assessment, and the FAA could require a full environmental impact study.
The other major project, which West says will most likely require an environmental impact study, is a planned runway located parallel to Route 176.
McMillen, who has been lobbying for this policy change, said he hopes the results gathered by measuring single-event noise will lead to more noise mitigation efforts. He said he does not know how such measurements could affect the viability of future projects.
Local officials and residents say they are pleased the FAA has finally decided to implement something they have pushing for so long. But they say the real test is how the FAA uses the data.
"Being legislated is one thing," said Bob Stelmaszek, a technical adviser to the Severna Park Council. "But implementing it is something different. A lot of times there isn't a lot of resemblance between the two. I think it's a good faith effort on the part of the FAA."