Plane noise takes turn for the worse


Staff writer

Neighborhood suspicions that airplanes taking off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport have gotten louder in recent months were confirmed last week.

Representatives of the city, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Port of Seattle and the Marine Hills neighborhood met at City Hall to talk about how changes to FAA policy have resulted in increased noise over Federal Way — and what can be done about it.

“What was perceived by Marine Hills homeowners was validated,” said Greg Fewins, the city’s deputy director of community development.

The increase in noise stems from a recent change in FAA policy regulating how soon aircraft can begin turning after takeoff.

Since the change, some aircraft are turning sooner and lower within the noise abatement corridor — the area identified by the FAA and the port within which airplanes are not supposed to turn in order to reduce the noise they generate on takeoff.

Cutting turns into the corners of the noise abatement corridor is leading to increases in the thunderous noise on the ground that rattles windows and drowns conversation in Marine Hills and nearby neighborhoods.

“With the fly-by philosophy, they’re clipping a corner and flying into the noise abatement corridor,” Fewins said.

It’s difficult to identify the noise abatement area on the ground or by streets, said Lynae Jacobson, manager of noise abatement at the airport, but it extends about five nautical miles south of the airport, is about a mile wide at its widest point and reaches up to 3,000 feet. Once aircraft are past the five-nautical-mile point and higher than 3,000 feet, they can begin to turn.

Marine Hills residents asked the City Council last month if the city could get the airport to mitigate the noise, but coordinating all the agencies involved can be tricky.

The Port of Seattle, which operates the airport, has regulation authority of everything on the ground at the airport, but the FAA takes control once airplanes leave the ground. The federal agency controls all the air space and regulates flight paths based on safety, economic and efficiency criteria.

The port can ask that aircraft stay within a certain path or corridor to reduce noise, but the FAA ultimately has control of where airplanes may fly.

Jacobson said airport personnel became aware of the FAA’s turning-point change some time ago because airport personnel monitor abatement procedures on a monthly basis. Once they noticed that aircraft were turning a little before the end of the corridor, they reported it to the FAA, she said.

“This was something we noticed a while ago and it’s something we’ve been working with the FAA on for some time,” she said.

Fewins said the city will ask the port to identify the process by which the city could ask to have the noise abatement corridor changed or moved. But he added city officials don’t intend to ask for a change or modification.

The FAA also is looking into making a minor adjustment to the flight management system that would take aircraft out another four-tenths of a mile before they turn.

Changes will require coordination among cities, communities and the airport, and it’s not fast or easy process.

“Change is very difficult because it affects so many agencies and officials,” Fewins said.

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and

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