On September 22, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and Arlington County Board member Mary Hynes hosted a Helicopter Community Forum. Supervisor Hyland from Fairfax County attended along with representatives from the Army, FAA, and the Private Helicopter Association. Most of the discussion focused on South Arlington flight routes over Routes 7 and 395, and the Ft. Belvoir area. The biggest problem seems to be that there is no central point of contact to gather complaints, figure out who is operating the offending helicopters, and then communicate the complaints to the right agency. With more than a dozen agencies operating helicopters in the area, it was disappointing that only the U.S. Army sent a representative to the forum, a special operations person authorized to speak only in general terms.
All air traffic in the area, including helicopters, is controlled by the Reagan National Airport tower. Helicopters have to operate below the airspace used by airplanes landing or taking off, so normally they fly below 1500 feet and sometimes may be as low as a few hundred feet above the ground. After 10pm, helicopters usually can be given permission to fly at higher altitudes. The control tower director stated that all government helicopter traffic is on mission, mostly classified.
The forum closed with the control tower director agreeing to review complaints submitted over a two week period to be determined sometime in the near future. Mary Hynes will follow up on this and let us know the dates. When that test period occurs, it will be important for complainants to collect and submit the date, time, direction of travel, and, if possible, some description of the helicopter.
After the forum ended, we spoke informally with the Army special ops. representative and an FAA person about the helicopter traffic over the Rock Spring area, explaining that we often have several late night flights at low altitude in a narrow path. They responded that the Rock Spring area is not on any designated official route; but flights may still occur as a matter of convenience or, in some cases, a need for security. Probably the most improvement we can hope to achieve in the future is for flights to take place at higher altitudes after 10 pm and perhaps in a more scattered pattern than the very narrow path that seems to be followed now.
Report submitted by Gregg Kurasz, member of the Executive Board of the Rock Spring Civic Association.