Another followup: Thursday’s low, loud planes over West Seattle

(Boeing Field-provided graphic of air traffic from Thursday night)
We’re slugging our way through a big stack of followups – something we appreciate getting to do, because in our citywide media days, that’s what often fell by the wayside: If you have to cover an entire huge region, like Western Washington, there’s always something new to rush to, and you seldom get to look back. But for small independent sites focusing on a single neighborhood, followups are more feasible. Here’s the latest : Remember those low, loud passenger and cargo planes that startled many West Seattleites over the course of about an hour last Thursday night? We were finally pointed to local FAA spokesperson Bob Fergus, who confirms today what some aviation-savvy commenters had suggested:

… on the evening of complaints that you referenced, we experienced a peculiar weather pattern that, although not common it isn’t rare either, had prevailing winds from opposite directions at Boeing Field and Sea-Tac Airports. In this case Boeing takeoff pattern was to the north while Sea-Tac’s was to the south. That forces Boeing departures to make a much sooner turn westward after taking off to the north to avoid any potential conflicts with Sea-Tac departures headed south. While it is a safe operation, it nonetheless does cause more noise due to a lower altitude when turning westward very soon after a Boeing departure to the north.

WSB’er Karen also had forwarded a reply she got from Boeing Field (King County International Airport) noise officer Sharyn Parker, saying the same thing, enclosing the graphic above (the bold line was a cargo flight during that time; you also see green departing tracks from KCIA and red arrival tracks from Sea-Tac), and concluding: “Please be assured that this type of flight event seldom occurs and does not represent a change in flight patterns for KCIA.”

Meantime, we are now working with the FAA to answer a few questions that have arisen since our original inquiry, regarding regional-media stories over the weekend – unrelated to the Thursday night situation – about a possible future change in flight patterns, to save fuel. As detailed in this Sunday story from (WSB partner), the potential change could result in turns over Elliott Bay rather than over North Seattle. Would that mean more jet noise for West Seattle? What’s the status of this proposal and how can you comment on it? Look for a separate update with whatever we find out.

14 Replies to "Another followup: Thursday's low, loud planes over West Seattle"

  • MLJ September 1, 2009 (2:22 pm)

    This fuel saving argument is poppycock. The human cost of increased environmental noise is much higher.

    Gordon Hempton heard the same thing when he tried to keep the airlines from flying over his One Square Inch of Silence in the Hoh Rainforest:

  • cakeitseasy September 1, 2009 (8:58 pm)

    Jeebus that’s a lot of scribble! And what’s that fat red line crossing through my ‘hood?

  • Alvis September 1, 2009 (10:27 pm)

    Please list Boeing Field’s noise complaint phone number and encourage West Seattle residents to COMPLAIN. Certain people in the Magnolia area have been griping nonstop for years to improve their property values at West Seattle’s expense by getting overnight cargo flights moved in our direction.
    Beware of airport claims that unusual weather and fuel conservation are the sole reasons for deciding to try a new flight pattern that’s closer to West Seattle.

  • Leroniusmonkfish September 2, 2009 (12:57 am)

    Alvis – Sorry, but the IAF (Initial Approach Fix) called “Nolla” and sits just North of Magnolia has been in place longer than I can remember. This is the beacon that aircraft track to in order to intercept the ILS (Instrument Landing System) into KBFI (Boeing Field) from the North thus Magnolia is indeed impacted. ALL aircraft approaching KBFI from this direction and needing to use this landing system due to low visibility, bad weather, etc. will be instructed by Seattle Center to track to this beacon thus enabling them to track a heading of 131 degrees to land at KBFI.

    Think about it…”cargo flights” aren’t typically heading Westbound. The flights operating out of Boeing Field are UPS, ABX/DHLE and ATI all of which are based East.

    UPS – Louisville, KY
    ABX/DHL – Cincinnati, OH
    ATI – Little Rock, AK (Operating for ABX)

    I can assure you that the FAA has no plans of turning WS into an IAF for traffic. It’s way too close to the flight pattern for either KBFI or KSEA. Airliners need a good distance from their destination airport to intercept a localizer, stabilize their approach, etc…

  • Leroniusmonkfish September 2, 2009 (1:30 am)

    Here is what the FAA recommends for visual approaches to KBFI. This is for good weather operations only and like I said previously for inclement weather the flight path(s) are even more controlled:

    “When cleared for the Harbor Visual
    Approach Runway 13R, proceed via the depicted routes over the middle of Puget Sound and Elliott
    Bay to Harbor Island and complete a straight in visual approach to Boeing Field/King County Intl
    Airport (BFI). Adherence to the recommended altitudes is strongly recommended to reduce the
    incidence of TCAS alarms. Visual approaches to Seattle-Tacoma Intl Airport (SEA) may be
    conducted simultaneously through Elliott Bay. It is essential that all aircraft remain in the center of Elliot Bay for noise abatement.

  • WSB September 2, 2009 (2:44 am)

    Alvis: Noise complaint number for anyone interested – actually I found a link with more than a few noise numbers (Sea-Tac, construction noise, etc.)
    Meantime, as I think I hinted above, the FAA contact is exploring a few followups for me and we’ll report back on what’s next for this proposed flight-path change. The animation in the Times story showed the path but not the potential elevation, for example, so my followup inquiry includes, if more planes are lower as they cross over Elliott Bay in this potential new turn location (rather than doing it 10-20 miles north), wouldn’t there be more noise even if they were in a lower-power setting because of the nature of the guidance they’re locked in on (pardon the non-technical terminology)? … TR

  • Leroniusmonkfish September 2, 2009 (3:58 am)

    The fuel savings for this initiative will not only reduce the carbon footprint for aircraft flying over our area but will also reduce the noise. This is not a “poppycock” idea. To allow aircraft to descend unimpeded will greatly reduce the noise levels and in turn lower their fuel consumption/emissions. Think of them as big gliders…engines at idle…

    MLJ – How is the “human cost of increased environmental noise higher”? The noise level will actually be lower along with a reduction in fuel consumption that may just let you purchase your next airfare at a reasonable price.

  • Homer September 2, 2009 (9:28 am)

    Does this make sense to anyone else? The FAA’s statement below? If Sea-Tac is departing to the south, why would Boeing departures to the North have to make a much sooner turn to the west to avoid conflicts with the southbound departures at sea-tac? Shouldn’t it be Boeing northbound departures taking a quick west approach to avoid conflicts with INBOUND SOUTHBOUND aircraft to Sea-Tac?????

    “In this case Boeing takeoff pattern was to the north while Sea-Tac’s was to the south. That forces Boeing departures to make a much sooner turn westward after taking off to the north to avoid any potential conflicts with Sea-Tac departures headed south.”

  • Bettytheyeti September 2, 2009 (9:51 am)

    I moved to West Seattle from Beacon Hill to avoid the ever increasing airplane noise from KCIA and Sea Tac. If you give an inch they will take a mile! (206) 205-5242 KCIA complaint line, 206) 433-5393 STIA. Trust me, fuel savings don’t cause them to re-route over Lake Washington, Seward Park, Medina, or Bellevue; because they complain louder.

  • Leroniusmonkfish September 2, 2009 (2:03 pm)

    Homer – I believe they meant to say “to avoid any potential conflicts with Sea-Tac arrivals headed south”.

    I remember back in the days when Sea-Tac departures to the North used to turn Eastbound and cross over Mercer Island….but the folks on “Poverty Rock” bitterly complained and aircraft are no longer able to overfly it…..

  • charlib52 September 6, 2009 (5:55 pm)

    I’m going to call the noise line multiple times from multiple phones and praise them. Honestly folks, we live in a major city. Noise is everywhere. Honestly! Airplanes have been flying over Elliot bay doing visual approaches in good weather for *DECADES*. Occasionally there are exceptions like anything. This is life in general. Adapt. You’ve been living with the same general noise pattern for *DECADES* and they’re not really changing it. They now want to do it during bad weather to help increase efficiency and decrease noise even more…what is wrong with this?! The official charts, as noted above, even emphasize noise abatement so pilots know to fly friendly (i.e. the quote above is the FAA saying “fly over the bay so the NIMBYs don’t have to deal with the truths of living in a major metro area that we all know is true yet we have to placate them or we don’t look good and who wants to listen to them anyway…”). I’m on the phone, right this minute with praise for the FAA, KCIA and Sea-Tac for trying something new that may be more green and does not increase the general noise contours one bit from what has been in use for that past years and years.

  • Grace September 16, 2009 (3:21 pm)

    I live in Northgate, and the airplane/jet noise is constant. I’m all for moving more flight patterns over Elliot Bay if it reduces the noise up North. This seems like a good example of “not in my backyard”.

  • Patty Fong September 17, 2009 (6:25 pm)

    Can we all unite on some common things that won’t push the airplane noise from one neighborhood into another? Can we all unite for:
    1. Quieter airplane technology.
    2. Airport curfews.
    3. Noise budgets.
    4. Shifting noise monitoring role from the FAA to the EPA.

  • Patty Fong September 17, 2009 (10:45 pm)

    I live in the Central District near 12th & Yesler. Since June of this year I noticed we were suddenly right under the flight path mostly for south bound landing planes – not just commercial airliners but some kind of 2-prop silver, long, thin plane with a loud screech, seaplanes that fly E-W and Air Lift NW helicopters to and from Harborview. This makes for an ungodly brew of sound and it is all day long, landing flights every minute. I contacted the Squire Park Community Council and the Port Noise Abatement folks are coming to our 10/10/09 quarterly meeting at C.A.M.P. on 18th at 10 am to answer questions. I had a lot at first but I have more about noise mitigations than why this is happening. If you want to see what I have learned, see my Facebook group “Under the Flight Path” or e-mail me at I am hopeful that all our communities can join together to force action on the following:
    1. Have the noise monitoring effects, parameters, etc, transferred from the FAA to the EPA. This is an environmental issue so EPA is the rightful jurisdiction. Some other folks in the US are trying to do this. I have a link to this story.
    2. Get the Port to enforce and monitor “noise budgets”.
    3. Have nighttime airport curfews with penalties for breaking these. Exceptions are for emergencies, of course. In 2000, a Port of Seattle Noise Mediation Team finished working on noise issues – see “Noise Mediation Team Wraps Up 10 Years of Accomplishment”)
    4. Advocate for immediate quieter airplane technology and incentives at airports for airlines using these.
    5. Monitoring adherence to flight paths by pilots/airlines.
    6. Ground noise – restrictions on where aircraft can “run up” engines for ground testing and limitations on nighttime runups)
    7. Aircraft Monitoring Procedure – a procedure pilots must follow when departing Sea-Tac to help aircraft generate less noise. Does this also apply to landings?
    There are many more mitigations we could be joining together for to achieve relief from this hideous airplane noise that isn’t solved by shifting it from one neighborhood to another.

    To those who think people who are concerned about airplane noise, that this is the city, get used to it, I say, city noise is random for the most part and there are ordinances against noise in the city. No such ordinances exist or are enforced in the city about airplane noise. Airplane noise is the second largest (after roadway noise) source of environmental noise.

    I have a Facebook group, “Under the Flight Path” with lots of great links. I am interested in connecting with people and groups who want to advocate for wide long-term solutions to hold the airlines, pilots, the Port, the FAA and all others responsible, accountable, now!

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