Baltimore-Washington International Airport is becoming quieter for those who live near it, state aviation officials say, and they hope the change will become evident by April or May when a public hearing isconducted on a new "noise zone" map.
The Maryland Aviation Administration, which runs the airport, is making significant progress toward reducing the size of the 12,000-acre "noise zone" around BWI that the state deems too noisy for homes, a spokesman told nearby residents, airport and air line officials yesterday.
"What you are seeing is a lot of what we were trying to accom
plish," said Michael West, MAA associate administrator for planning and engineering. "We are trying to shift noise away from residential and toward the industrial zoned areas."
West said noise levels should decrease even though airport operations are increasing steadily at about 2 percent a year because quieter jets are using BWI and takeoff patterns are being shifted away from large-scale developments. "As youconcentrate more flights in the same area, you spread noise over fewer areas," West said.
The noise zone designates areas with an average daily noise level of at least 65 decibels, about the level of a downtown commercial street. Residents living in the noise zone are eligible for state programs to buy their homes, soundproof them, or helplocate buyers. To build a home or an addition in the noise zone requires a special permit from the state.
The General Assembly has mandated that the airport reduce the noise zone to 8,500 acres by 1993,a goal the MAA is trying to reach by encouraging air carriers to usequieter aircraft.
West said the noise zone will be reduced to 9,600 acres by this spring. The zone will be reduced further before the the 1993 deadline.
To demonstrate that they are making progress, officials showed computer-generated contour lines developed through the use of radar-images of actual flight tracks outlining the areas around BWI with noise levels above 65 decibels. The contour lines are one factor used to determine boundaries of the noise zone, officials said.
In 1987, when the last such contour study was done, 9,700 acres fell into the 65-decibel or above category. In 1990, that fell to 8,600 acres.
These new contour lines will have to be combined with projections for 1995 and 2000 before an actual noise zone map can be drawn.
The 1990 contour lines released yesterday show a significant drop in noise levels over Glen Burnie and to areas just north of the airport. Noise levels increased slightly to the south, near the community of Elmhurst, and to the west toward Howard County.
Noise levels around Elmhurst increased because of a new takeoff pattern last year, which allows westbound aircraft departing from BWI's southbound runway to take a right-turn.
The airport made the switch to alleviate noise in Glen Burnie, but Harmons and Elmhurst residents have protested the change.
At yesterday's bimonthly environmental meeting, airport officials said the Federal Aviation Administration will allow westbound planes taking a right over Elmhurst to travel 1.5 milesstraight out before making the turn -- as opposed to 1 mile now. Theplanes would then go around the edges of the communities instead of over them.
But Mike Sarli, the FAA's air traffic manager, said in a letter that he has some concern about the 1.5-mile turn. He said some planes would have to remain at 3,000 feet for a few miles so they wouldn't interfere with incoming jets. He said, the FAA would not oppose the 1.5-mile turn.
The issue will be discussed next Wednesday at the regular meeting of the BWI Neighbors Committee.
In other announcements, Bob Talbert, BWI's noise-abatement officer, said the state has frozen money slated for noise assistance programs. That means soundproofing for Glen Burnie Park and Oakwood elementary schools is now on hold.
"We hope this is a temporary freeze situation," Talbert said.
But he said that homeowners or schools that have already signed agreements with the state will not be affected. That includes Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School, where construction will start this summer.
Also, airport officials said they will try to change flight paths of planes that approach BWI from the south above the Severn River before landing. Beginning April 4, some planes will fly over Interstate 97 and Route 3 on their way into BWI. The new route can only be flown by planes coming into BWI during non-peak hours when the weather is good.
"We agreed to use it as much as we can," said Bill Buck, assistant FAA air traffic manager at BWI. "But we want to remain flexible because there are limitations."