Can the courts determine how an aircraft flies to lower the impact of noise?

Court Challenges and Plane Noise

In a recent article on WTOP.COM (, Kate Ryan highlights recent considerations in Rockville, MD where the city council president is considering whether it can change flight patterns through the judicial process.

Flight procedure development is a complex process that involves input from many different stakeholder communities and compliance with FAA directives as to how these procedures are engineered. It is not a simple process. Let’s start this review from the high-level perspective. Next time you step outside, look up and make an assessment of the airspace above you. What is it like? What do you see? Is it congested or lightly traveled? The most common response to this question is that “it is not too congested” unless the person being asked lives in a community close to an airport. Then, the answer is obviously different. In truth, unless you are in northern Canada, the airspace above you is very congested and highly structured.

Airspace is divided into sections and those sections are further divided into sectors based on altitudes. Connecting those sectors are airways for aircraft, or corridors used to transit an aircraft from one sector to another. When adverse weather is added to this picture, the entire airspace system can be completely reshuffled in a moment. Further, within these sectors are buffers that are added to keep aircraft separated, since aircraft don’t look kindly on impacting other aircraft.

The flight paths that are built have to accommodate aircraft from the weekend flyer, helicopters, military aircraft, and commercial airlines of all sizes and performance capabilities. Therefore, a wide variety of aircraft performance characteristics have to be considered and accommodated for. The above is a very brief overview of a long process that is very involved and complicated. The legal challenges that are being considered by Montgomery County and other locations around the country, pose an interesting question: Can the courts determine how an aircraft flies? At BridgeNet, we believe in, and have successfully participated in, a different path.

Over the years, the FAA has developed a series of criteria documents that have provided a safe structure to our aviation system. Additionally, they have developed documents that outline how flight path design is to be performed and what stakeholder groups should be involved. As with any area of our lives, flight procedure and airspace development is a compromise of many different organizations, needs, and aircraft capabilities. Many individuals on our staff have implemented successful airspace and flight path changes around the world. This can be accomplished in the United States as well with a mix of education, compromise, and a willingness to succeed.


About the Author: Grady Boyce is a current and active Captain for a major airline flying the B-737. He has participated in, and led, airspace developments and ATC modernization efforts on all continents except Antarctica. Grady is a consultant to BridgeNet bringing flight procedure development, ATC expertise, and TERPS assistance into their current and future activities.