How many complaints does it take to change a major flight path into some of the busiest airports in the U.S.? Sadly, for many extraordinarily dedicated individuals, that’s a question that still doesn’t have an answer.
According to a story first reported on by Owen Phillips of The Outline, this strange tale begins with a George Mason University study on the distribution of airport noise complaints across the country in 2015. The study found the following:
In Denver, one person accounted for 3,550 complaints (74% of the total for DEN). The kicker? The individual in question lives 30 miles from the airport.
Three folks in Seattle made up 64% of the noise complaints they got at SEA for all of 2015.
The top three filers at LAX covered 88% of the noise complaints made in the month of June.
None of that holds a candle to what came out of the Washington Reagan data. According to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s “2015 Annual Aircraft Noise Report”, a single household in the D.C. area filed 6,852 complaints in 2015. Assuming even distribution, that’s about 19 a day for the whole year with no weekends or holidays. Seriously. Who would do that? Must be a crazy cat lady. Nothing to do but knit bad sweaters, feed the local strays, and call the airport, right?
Not even close. Mr. Phillips found and interviewed the guy responsible. Probably. At the very least, he found a person who fit the profile and has stated that he phoned in multiple noise complaints a day during 2015. The identity of our mystery caller: Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori. That’s right. Three space missions (2002, 2005, 2011).
According to The Outline interview, Col. Vittori believes that the airport has inflated the number of complaints he actually made. He claims about half the amount and has emailed the airport authorities under the Freedom of Information Act to ask if he is the one responsible for those 6,000+ complaints. Interestingly enough, Mr. Phillips points out that Vittori lives in a different neighborhood than the one reported by the airport (Hillandale instead of Foxhall) and given that the total number of complaints for DCA is only 8,760 – which wouldn’t account for Vittori’s admitted 3,400 in addition to the airport reported 6,800 from a Foxhall household – someone has gotten something wrong.