OVER WEST SEATTLE: Safety concerns result in changes for pilots using Boeing Field

The photo is from local pilot Vlad Oustimovitch, taken the first time he flew a newly labeled departure route announced by the Federal Aviation Adeministration earlier this month for pilots using Visual Flight Rules while arriving at and departing from Boeing Field (officially King County International Airport) just east of West Seattle. (In the photo, that’s Alki Point toward the top, Schmitz Park near the bottom.)

He tipped us to the changes: The FAA says it canceled two previous routes and replaced them with “newly defined” routes, though its announcement and King County’s FYI stress that “The new routes follow existing air traffic flight tracks that are assigned by BFI ATCT [air-traffic-control tower] and no new areas will experience new air traffic overflights. The new VFR arrival and departure routes do not introduce air traffic to any new areas.”

The FAA says the changes were made to increase safety “by increasing separation between arrival and departure flows into (Boeing Field), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Renton Municipal Airport.” The FAA says this is necessary because there have been some “Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) events involving VFR aircraft arriving and departing [Boeing Field].” To see the newly labeled arrival/departure routes, scroll through this FAA document below (or here):

Each route is labeled with the number of aircraft expected to use it daily. Oustimovitch says the main change he noticed was the addition of an Alki Point departure route, as shown in his photo above; he also sent this document that included the old routes.

Again, this change – which took effect two weeks ago – isn’t supposed to result in air traffic anywhere that you didn’t see or hear it before. But if you think you’re experiencing noise related to Boeing Field flights, here’s how to report that.

36 Replies to "OVER WEST SEATTLE: Safety concerns result in changes for pilots using Boeing Field"

  • Austin Millbarge May 31, 2021 (10:59 pm)

    I’m surprised you can even fly VFR in this area given the weather patterns. Seems too easy to get caught in cloud cover. I guess that explains why you see so many low flying planes over west Seattle when we don’t have clear skies. If you’re going to fly an airplane, you should be able to fly on instruments.

    • John June 1, 2021 (12:29 am)

      I completely agree however some people are still learning so it makes that a little tricky but tweaking the flight routes like they have will definitely be helpful with the noise. I’ve noticed there’s been a lot of low flyers lately that seem like they’re further down than they should be

      • Vlad Oustimovitch June 1, 2021 (8:45 am)

        The weather here certainly isn’t the best, but the reason that aircraft are flying low over West Seattle has nothing to do with visibility.  The issue is the overriding Class B Airspace from SeaTac that prevents aircraft from going any higher.  They would be in serious violation, causing a danger to aircraft landing and taking off from SeaTac.  There have been cases of aircraft flying out of Boeing Field that have caused commercial jets at SeaTac to make emergency flight changes as a result of pilots who did not stay low.  Flying out of Boeing Field is complicated, but it makes good pilots.

        • Rick June 1, 2021 (9:28 am)

          At least once.

        • John June 1, 2021 (10:29 am)

          I know the flight heights my father was a pilot and I’ve watched aircraft through this area for many years. I know they have to be down to a certain point but some of them seem like they’re coming quite a bit lower than they should be

    • Tyr1001 June 1, 2021 (8:16 am)

      conditions and ceiling often support VFR operation. I fly VFR all the time around here. there are some days that are a total no go of course but generally there’s no issue. Getting your IFR cert is of course a good idea though – I don’t know any pilot who thinks otherwise

      • John June 1, 2021 (10:31 am)

        Completely agree! My father always said the same And with how crazy the weather can be around here it’s definitely a good idea. I’m happy to see people out flying It just seems there’s the occasional Cessna that gets a little lower than they should be

  • Matt P May 31, 2021 (11:20 pm)

    So this is why I haven’t been hearing low flying aircraft constantly over my home in Seaview anymore.  I was right in their path and they were constantly flying lower than the VFR said they were supposed to be (not to mentioned that my house wasn’t even in the original VFR path listed on the Boeing Airfield website, but somehow it ended up being the de facto route).  Maybe my complaining worked!

    • John June 1, 2021 (12:28 am)

      Glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed and complained about people flying lower than they should be in this area. I thought maybe I was just being overly sensitive but having lived in this area for decades I felt my complaint was justified. I can still remember my grandmother being upset over a decade ago when they opened up the flight paths that have now become restricted for traffic to come over this way

    • Tyr1001 June 1, 2021 (8:20 am)

      the planes flying over WS are that low to remain clear of SEATAC class B airspace which is 1800′ MSL over most of the area, so by the time they make it over highpoint they are a lot closer to the ground than they normally might be

      • Matt P June 1, 2021 (11:05 am)

        Understood, but some fly much lower than the suggested VFR.  I should never had a plane less than 300 feet above my roof, which has occurred regularly.

        • tfly June 1, 2021 (8:41 pm)

          Likely you are estimating 300 feet AGL incorrectly. 

          • Del June 2, 2021 (12:50 am)

            I’ve recorded plenty of planes/helicopters  flying below 300 feet above my roofline and there’s nothing that pisses me off more than the stupid low flying aircraft.  It’s well below being safe when trees around are at least 100 feet tall, and I’m dreading the day one crashes into a tree from their stupidity.  Formal complaints for their unsafe flight practices also don’t help, as the FAA, FSDO, and local airport just ignore the complaints of residents dealing with unsafe pilots. 

  • John June 1, 2021 (12:27 am)

    And so does this mean fewer small aircraft going over the Fauntleroy area?

    • Vlad Oustimovitch June 1, 2021 (8:29 am)

      Yes there should be a decrease in westbound aircraft flying over the Fauntleroy area, but not in those returning eastbound.  The new Alki departure now gives pilots heading west another option, but there is no new return route option from that direction.  There are also some tweaks to the pattern over Fauntleroy that will result in small changes in the exact location where aircraft overfly the area.

  • Jim June 1, 2021 (12:30 am)

    Is there a key indicating what these different colors mean or does the FAA just expect us to figure it out?? 

  • Hannah June 1, 2021 (5:49 am)

    It’s truly sad to see the complainers here in the comments. The airport has been here for almost a century so we all knew what we were buying into when we most to the area – noise by an airport is to expected. To call and complain seems absolutely ridiculous. Aircrafts at boeing field have to relatively  fly low to avoid SeaTacs airspace above them. The airport is probably doing the best they can to appease angry people but it’s a shame they have to take those calls everyday. 

    • Jim June 1, 2021 (8:21 am)

      You must not be aware of the history in the area. They opened new flight paths about 15 years ago which they are now adjusting. Those are the ones that people are complaining about because the aircraft as other commenters have mentioned are buzzing houses. It’s annoying and it wasn’t always the case in the airport’s history until recent history. 

      • Rumbles June 1, 2021 (11:40 am)

        To Hannah’s point, while the routes change the airport has still been there.  As traffic increases, they have to make adjustments to where the planes fly.  Keep in mind there are a lot of airports in the area that have to share the same general airspace.  Changes to one can affect another abs so on.  Sea-Tac alone is very busy.  Sorry, we don’t own the airspace above our homes.  

    • skeeter June 1, 2021 (12:51 pm)

      Interesting discussion.  I do have a comment about the “noise by an airport is to be expected” argument.  If we apply the same logic, we would oppose the clean truck rules in/near the Port of Seattle area because “diesel pollution is to be expected.”   I think recreational airplanes are similar to recreational boats.  They create noise, pollution, and climate change.  Part of social progress includes examining our behaviors and making change for the sake of shared health and comfort.  I’m not advocating for the end of recreational airplanes, but it seems like recreational flying should be part of the discussion in how we address uncomfortable noise and climate change.  

  • Ted Huetter June 1, 2021 (7:50 am)

    To the nice folks who think these planes are “flying too low,” how exactly do you know? The pilots have an altimeter in the cockpit. What precision instrument are you using at home? I’m fascinated. 

    • Niko June 1, 2021 (8:22 am)

      Oh goodness calm yourself down. In this day and age there are flight radar tracking apps and it’s pretty obvious if you’ve lived in the area for a long time when an aircraft is flying lower than it should be!

    • OneTimeCharley June 1, 2021 (8:27 am)

      Flight Aware. You should check it out, and yes they have been flying too low. I have lived in the same house for 22 years and it was definitely getting worse. This is why I started checking the website this year, and realized that the small planes were flying at 800 feet over my place when they should have been above 1000. Oddly enough, I had actually thought to myself the last week or so that the small plane East/West traffic had gotten much quieter, then this story appeared. I realize now why it has seemed quieter than the past; it’s because it IS quieter. Unfortunately, my gain is probably someone else’s loss.

      • John June 1, 2021 (10:36 am)

        I use both FlightAware and FlightRadar24 both are great! It’s also fun when I see an unidentified aircraft going over and I can figure out what it is. For example I saw a C-130 Hercules go over the other day and a few weeks ago there was a black Chinook that did a loop over Fauntleroy cove and headed back across the water (That one didn’t show up on the flight tracker)I’ve seen single engine craft as low as 600 ft over my house in the Fauntleroy area, there was a two engine aircraft that was practically shaking the house.And I agree with you that I’m sure it’s a loss for some pilots but this is still a beautiful area to fly and the flight path that they’ve now altered was relatively new. I can remember about 10 or 15 years ago when the FAA allowed more traffic in this area and she was very upset about it.I also noticed things were quieter and it didn’t click until I saw this article

      • Rumbles June 1, 2021 (11:44 am)

        Yes those websites are great.  However, keep in mind there can and will be lag in what is reported from those websites depending on internet conditions.  Even Air Traffic Control can see some lag in the altitude depending on the radar.  When you are talking about 200’ on a Mode C encoder and the allowable error from an altimeter in the first place, being 200’ off via a website right over your house is completely possible while the pilot might actually be at the required altitude.  

  • shotinthefoot June 1, 2021 (8:17 am)

    to those of you complaining, might I suggest visiting your friends and family in South Park and Boulevard Park? You want to see low flying aircraft to complain about they’ve had you beat for years. This is nothing compared to that. 

    • Snuffy June 1, 2021 (9:57 am)

      My house in seatac had thick windows to help with the plane noise because that was expected. My house in West Seattle, does not. Maybe they should take a slice of their yearly profit and send out crews to offer to replace every window for any west seattle resident now affected by their horrible new flight path that we had no say in the matter on.

    • Jim June 1, 2021 (10:38 am)

      This isn’t just about aircraft flying by It’s about aircraft flying lower than they’re legally supposed to be and creating excess noise. Also some of the routes that are being altered aren’t even that old. It was only about 10 or 15 years ago that a flight path was opened up over the Fauntleroy ferry. As another commenter mentioned that airport has been there for a long time and if people bought their houses next to it then it’s kind of expected. I don’t mind seeing people out enjoying aviation as long as they follow the rules

      • Vlad Oustimovitch June 1, 2021 (11:32 am)

        It’s been longer than that, Jim.  I remember flying the Lincoln Departure and Vashon Arrival routes 25 years ago.  When SeaTac opened in the late 1940’s it created problematic airspace over West Seattle that required flying low.  There aren’t many options other than what have been put in place.  If the plans to open a new regional airport (presumably further inland) ever take shape, maybe in a few decades this issue will go away, but not before then.

  • Ryan June 1, 2021 (10:59 am)

    To those arm chair pilots complaining that aircraft are flying illegally low, I suggest you take a quick read over FAR 91.119.  The very FIRST words are “Except when necessary for takeoff or landing”.  Those aircraft that are “low” over your houses (I assume along the ridge line mostly) are in landing or takeoff phases of flight therefor they are not bound by your perceived altitude restrictions. 

  • Joe Z June 1, 2021 (11:34 am)

    I don’t care about the increase in plane traffic but I find it hilarious that they claim no increase in plane traffic when 30 seconds of looking at the document shows that is clearly not the case. Seems like a win-win to have more flight path options. 

  • Jort June 1, 2021 (1:22 pm)

    Perhaps some of the GA pilots in here can educate everybody: what is the minimum clearance for departing and arriving aircraft flying over, say, the top of High Point hill, elevation 520 feet? I believe the acronym you’re looking for is “LSALT.” Would it be acceptable for an aircraft to be flying at 900 foot elevation, just 380 feet above the ground?

    • Vlad Oustimovitch June 1, 2021 (5:27 pm)

      It depends.  The correct altitude over Myrtle Reservoir for an aircraft departing Boeing Field should be about 1,500′, although that may require a  steep climb after flying under a 700′ SeaTac Class B limit and some are lower as they pass over the ridge.  The lowest prescribed altitude is for an aircraft returning to Boeing Field via Vashon while there is a north flow pattern, it has to fly at (or below) 1000′ which puts it within 500′ of the ground.  Under normal conditions an aircraft needs to stay >1,000′ above a developed area, so this is an unusual requirement related to the restricted airspace requirements of being so close to SeaTac.

  • W SEA Res June 1, 2021 (2:36 pm)

    Yes, all pilots should get heir instrument rating as soon as possible.  It’s actually much easier to land IFR because all you have to do is follow the approach or ATC guidance and look up and the runway is right in front of you.  No searching for the field, trying to figure out where you are, keeping high enough over obstacles,  or worrying about random clouds.

  • I’m okay with it June 2, 2021 (7:24 am)

    At least the addition of the alki departure explains why I now have planes crossing low over our house. I must be directly under the flight path. Now I truly live in jet city. 

  • 22blades June 4, 2021 (1:24 am)

    If you read the FAA guidance, these procedures & changes are dictated by safety & are not dictated by noise. The vertical separation between an aircraft landing in SeaTac over Boeing Field 1500’ above the ground & an aircraft in the West traffic pattern at 800’ is a mere 700’. Even by strict adherence, that’s been close enough trigger the onboard collision avoidance system (TCAS). By law, it is then required of you to initiate a Missed Approach or Go Around. That’s a big ask for 400 people & a ton of fuel. I know. I’ve done it. I’ve also taught on Boeing Field & had a student come back with a rear window cracked by baggage from a wake of a widebody jet going into SeaTac. I will say that it’s a bit disingenuous to say no new flight tracks gave resulted in these changes. The Alki tracks did not exist before these changes.  As for the low altitude flyovers, it’s the nature of the beast; planes aren’t helicopters. They require a few miles to safely descend to land (3 miles per 1000 feet of altitude) & still stay below the SeaTac airspace (Class B). One more thing to remember is that we are on the helicopter approach path to the Trauma Center helipad at Harborview. Folks, it’s a safety thing first… Thank you & we’ll be landing shortly.

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