Baltimore-Washington International Airport is a less noisy place to live near than five years ago, largely due to quieter jets that air carriers are being forced to use under federal law, state officials said yesterday.
As a result, the size of the airport's "noise zone," the land deemed too noisy for homes, will decrease from 12,100 acres to 7,500 since 1988, the people living there from 17,000 to 5,800 and the number of schools it encompasses from five to one.
Glen Burnie Park Elementary is the only school left in the zone, but it has been soundproofed.
A public hearing on the new noise zone map, redrawn every five years, is scheduled for Oct. 26.
"We are very happy that the size of the noise zone has been reduced," said Michael West, the associate administrator for planning and engineering for the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns and operates BWI.
The state legislature had ordered BWI officials to shrink the zone to 8,500 acres by this year. The noise zone designates areas with an average daily noise level of at least 65 decibels, about the level of a downtown commercial street.
The zone map is developed by combing noise levels collected throughout 1991 from monitoring stations throughout the area and projections -- based on airport operations, new air carriers and increasing numbers of quieter "Stage 3" planes -- for 1998 and 2003.
Of those properties in the zone, 1,100 properties are eligible for state soundproofing assistance, a buyout, resale guarantee or soundproofing program. That number will not change with the new noise zone, officials said. The state has helped 286 homeowners at a cost of $20.4 million.
Communities that should see a reduction in noise include those east, west and south of the airport, including Harwood Park, Rippling Woods, Glen Burnie Heights and a section of Glen Burnie near Route 648 and Dorsey Road.
The southern tip of Ferndale is the only neighborhood that has been added to the noise zone. Mr. West said about 150 homes are affected, and 54 homeowners will be eligible for some type of assistance package to soundproof their homes.
Residents in that community have complained for years that they should qualify for the soundproofing and buyout programs, but the state said the portable noise monitors set up there didn't show high levels.
But Mr. West said yesterday that the models used to calculate the noise levels used by the Federal Aviation Administration were inadequate, and updated technology proved the residents right.
"They had told us it was noisy," Mr. West said, "so it wasn't a big surprise to them that they were in the noise zone."
Airport officials met with the community last week to explain the assistance programs in detail.
Dennis Stevens, president of the Airport Coordinating Team, an activist group, said yesterday that he doesn't believe the figures the state is giving out.
"I am amazed it is so small," he said. "Why was it so large in 1988? Why was it so big back then? Their predictions are way off. They have been wrong in the past."
Mr. Stevens' group is challenging the 1988 noise zone before the state's Transportation Review Board, arguing the MAA purposely enlarged the zone to pave the way for airport expansion.
Mr. Stevens charged that not all residents are being made eligible for the homeowner's assistance programs, because they live in newer homes that are falsely assumed to be soundproofed.
Mr. West said the noise zone should continue to shrink over the years, even if the number of flights and airlines increases.
Airlines have been ordered to use only Stage 3 aircraft, which are much quieter than the current Stage 2 aircraft. Nearly 60 percent of all airplanes that fly in and out of BWI now are Stage 3, Mr. West said. That figure must be 100 percent by 2003 under federal law.