Airplane rattles Marine Hills


The ground-shaking noise and rumbling heard by residents in the Marine Hills neighborhood during the wee morning hours may not disappear until 2011, when the Port of Seattle concludes an airport noise study.

Port of Seattle spokesmen met with the Federal Way City Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee and residents Dec. 3 to provide information about its operations and invite them to participate in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Part 150 Study. The study will take place in 2009 and measure the airport’s noise impacts to local communities.

Residents came hoping for answers to their various questions — most inquiring as to how the airport plans to decrease its noise levels in Federal Way in coming years.

The airport tracks and documents the elevation and noise disruptions of flights arriving and departing from Sea-Tac, said Stan Shepherd, Port of Seattle Airport Noise Programs manager. Though some noisy aircraft still exist, new technology is leading to quieter and more efficient airplanes, he said.

“A lot of the noisy aircraft are being taken out of service,” Shepherd said.

But to the disappointment of many Marine Hills residents, the quiet airplanes are not the ones flying over their homes during the early morning hours. One after another, residents testified that they are consistently disrupted by noise created by an airplane departing Sea-Tac airport between 3 and 4 a.m. They expressed frustration in being rattled from their sleep at this time.

Nancy Combs, who lives on 21st Avenue Southwest, said every time the airplane flies over her home, she wakes up and has a hard time falling back to sleep. She recalled an instance in which the noise knocked over her ironing board and caused her to think an intruder was in her home.

Upon further discussion, the noisy culprit was discovered: EVA Airways Corporation’s flight from Sea-Tac airport to Taipei, Taiwan, causes of the disruption. The plane is a Boeing 747-4E that carry’s 272 passengers. It is fully loaded with occupants and fuel, which increases its noise level, Shepherd said.

The flight must turn to proceed to its destination, but that turn cannot be made until the airplane has reached an elevation of 3,000 feet and traveled 5 nautical miles away from Sea-Tac airport, Shepherd said. As it reaches these figures, it makes its westward turn over Marine Hills, he said.

Paul Mathews, who lives on 7th Place South, said he cannot imagine how the aircraft can be making so much noise if it is flying at 3,000 feet.

“I strongly suspect you have a few violations of those elevations,” Mathews told Shepherd.

Federal Way City Council member Linda Kochmar and other residents asked about the possibility of altering flight paths and restricting airlines’ flight times. The airport has requested EVA Airways, along with all other airlines operating at Sea-Tac airport, to limit nighttime flights out of the airport, Shepherd said. However, Sea-Tac airport cannot make the airline change its flight times, Shepherd said.

The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t allow the airport to implement restrictions on the access of the airport, Shepherd said.

The problem is “out of our hands,” Shepherd added. Flight paths are changed by the FAA, not the airport, he said. Sea-Tac airport needs federal funding to operate, so it must follow FAA guidelines.

“We can’t change flight patterns; it just isn’t an option for us,” Shepherd said.

The study:

The Part 150 Study is generally done every five years and is submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration. One would have occurred this year, but is now on hold until a third runway is constructed at the airport in 2009, Shepherd said.

When the last Part 150 Study was conducted in 2002, changes were proposed to the flight path EVA Airways follows during its early morning flight to Taipei, Shepherd said. This would have required jet aircraft flying at night on this path to proceed farther south before turning; however, the change required the Port of Seattle to buy air rights from the cities of Tacoma, Fife and Milton. All refused the offer, Shepherd said. If those cities had allowed the change, the FAA indicated the flight path would have been altered, he said.

Until those rights can be bought or until the next Part 150 Study, which can take up to two years to complete, the city has few options for mitigating airplane noise.

Shepherd suggested the Federal Way City Council contact U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington.

“The next step is the Part 150 process; that’s where change occurs,” Shepherd said.

Federal Way residents and the city council need to unite and speak as a group during that process, Kochmar said. The airplane noise levels have been a problem in the city for many years, and despite complaints, they have not been mitigated, she said. She promised to work to reduce the disruptions before her council term ended in 2009.

“If it’s one thing I do before I leave this council, it’s to make sure I take care of the public,” Kochmar said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: or (253) 925-5565.


Check it out

To track flights departing from and arriving at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, visit the airport’s Web site at and click on Noise Abatement Web Trak. The site provides information on the destination, aircraft type and altitude of each airplane. The Land Use and Transportation Committee requested Shepherd send the city 60 consecutive days worth of data on the airlines and flights that travel the flight path near Marine Hills.

Aircraft noise is measured using DNL — day night average noise level. This is a sound exposure level illustrated through the use of contour lines. Areas falling within the 65 DNL contour line are considered affected by the average amount of noise created by Sea-Tac airport’s operations. As aircraft become quieter, less people are affected by the noise.

“Our contours are shrinking over a period of time,” said Stan Shepherd, Port of Seattle Airport Noise Programs manager. “We have seen a dramatic reduction in the size of those contours.”

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