For years the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has opposed further residential development in Dulles Airport's flight paths and has adamantly opposed new noise studies, but now -- amid growing noise complaints -- MWAA has agreed to conduct a new noise study of its operations.
For more than two decades, the county has relied on boundaries drawn up based on a noise study from 1993 to determine the noise zones around the airport. The county restricts residential development in areas near the airport that experience high volumes of noise from airplanes.
MWAA has been an outspoken critic of allowing more residential development near its flight paths because of fear it could impact airport operations.
Last year, residents across the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area filed a record number of noise complaints for flights from Reagan National and Dulles International airports. Airport officials logged a total of 42,683 complaints about flights at National and Dulles in 2016, compared to just under 10,000 in 2015, according to an Associated Press report.
MWAA spokesperson Rob Yingling said the Airports Authority has not yet commissioned the study and will still need to approve the study in it its budget for next year.
Yingling said MWAA's change of heart was the result of several factors, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) working on implementing an air transportation system modernization program known as "Nextgen." He also said the FAA has indicated that they plan on optimizing the use of Dulles Airport's three north-south parallel runways simultaneously as part of a nationwide program.
Another factor in MWAA's decision was the authority's plans for more cargo and operations around the clock using large body aircraft.
"The Airports Authorities feels that all those things together and an updated noise contour study will better help the surrounding jurisdiction such as Loudoun County in their land-use planning efforts," Yingling said.
Yingling said the study will take a year to conduct and would involve input from the airport, FAA, airlines, surrounding jurisdictions and communities.
Yingling could not provide a cost for the study. But Loudoun County Program Manager John Merrithew with Loudoun County's Department of Planning and Zoning, said MWAA has budgeted $500,000 for the new noise survey and the county will not have to pay for it.
Merrithew says overall county officials are pleased that MWAA has agreed to conduct the new noise study, but are unsure exactly what it will produce.
"Nobody has dared project what will happen," he said.
Over the summer, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors had been set to advance its land-use plan around the future Silver Line Metro stops.
Part of the discussion included the question of whether to allow more mixed-use communities east of Loudoun County Parkway - a move the MWAA staunchly opposes.
Supervisors instead opted to pause and send the Silver Line Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPAM) to the county's Envision Loudoun program for more work as part of that ongoing process.