Sunday, May 27, 2007

As the weather warms, I encourage everyone to get outside and enjoy your neighborhood! However, I've found that increasingly, every moment I spend in my garden is consumed by incredible noise from massive jets flying directly overhead. I've lived on Capitol Hill for more than 10 years and in the Central District for more than 4 years. I am happy with an urban life, and am happy to endure my fair share of urban noise, including flight noise.

However, starting last summer, I noticed an incredible increase in the number of flights, and in particular shockingly low flights directly overhead. We noticed being awoken at night from jets regularly, and conversations on the patio had to cease in 3 minute intervals. I could look to the north and see them lining up for miles. In the fall I began doing research and was startled with what I learned.

Before I get too far into that… here's the important part:

First, Sea-Tac has a Noise Abatement Office with an informative website at: http://www.portseattle.org/community/environment/noise.shtml

Second, they do track complaints re noise, and these are evaluated when determining future noise mitigation efforts. I did notice that neighborhoods with a lot of complaints seemed to be successful in shifting the noise away from their areas.

SUBMIT NOISE COMPLAINTS TO: http://www.portseattle.org/Environmental/Noise/Pages/Noise-Comment-Form.aspx or BY PHONE: 206-787-5393 or toll-free 1-800-826-1147, day or night. Don't worry about submitting multiple complaints, as they count both the total number and the number of unique complainants. Certain waterfront neighborhoods had the same people complaining hundreds of times.

Now for all the rest that I never expected to learn.

Flights need to change direction based on weather. Roughly 70% of the year, Sea-tac is in a "South Flow" pattern meaning all flights land and depart from the North to the South. When in a South Flow pattern, EVERY FLIGHT LANDING AT SEA-TAC flies in a straight line from 520, directly over Capitol Hill, then the Central District, then Beacon Hill until landing at Sea-Tac. The target path is roughly over 19th Avenue. 100% of the burden of all descending flight noise is upon these neighborhood when in a South Flow pattern.
In fact, here are some "interesting" related points. Flights from all directions are instructed to maintain altitudes above 5000 feet until they clear North of 520, at which point they turn to face South, line up over 19th Ave. and can descend as low as 1800 feet all the way to roughly Boeing Field, where they descend lower to land. This is 1800 feet from sea level, not from the ground. So they'll be closer than this when you're on a hill.
When reviewing flight maps, you'll notice that no flights are over West Seattle, where the Mayor lives, nor over Mercer Island, nor Leschi, nor Hunts Point, nor any other waterfront properties – even though most cities direct ALL flight traffic over waterways where available in order to avoid direct impact over neighborhoods. (Hmmm, very interesting). Instead, Seattle has chosen to direct all flight traffic over the most densely populated neighborhoods, along the highest and longest North-South ridge on route to the airport. I don't think there's another route they could have chosen that would negatively impact more people.
Luckily, as part of the advanced noise abatement efforts by the Port of Seattle, I learned that they have implemented noise monitors throughout the city specifically to track the impact of noise from overhead flights. These measure the frequency, duration and intensity of noise occurrences to help the Port mitigate the impact on the community. I thought this would make great evidence in showcasing the unfair burden of noise put on our neighborhood.
However, despite placing 25 noise monitors throughout the city, there is not a single noise monitor on Capitol Hill, or in the Central District! There is one near I-90 at 30th Avenue South, and one on Southeast Beacon Hill (across the ridge from the flight path). In both locations, distance from the main flight path helps diffuse the impact of the noise. But there is not a single monitor, over the most densely populated neighborhoods, situated directly under the flight path. Unbelievable. It's almost as if they don't really want any evidence of the actual impact of noise over densely populated neighborhoods. It's almost as if it's in the Port's best interest, at the expense of the community, not to know just how much of a burden the flight noise is.
Also of interest: West Seattle has a flight noise monitor, Mercer Island has one, and Hunts Point has one. But there are no flights fly over these neighborhoods. (Hmmmmm.)
I requested flight maps for certain random days. (Anyone can request up to 4 pages of information per month through the noise abatement office). I received one flight map from 2000, one from 2002, (I omitted 2001 thinking the data would be skewed), one for the previous year and one for the current year. As I suspected, in 2000 flights came from all directions, all above 5000 feet, turned at random points, including over West Seattle and Mercer Island, and within very close range to the airport. However, by winter of 2002, all the flights followed the current pattern of merging into a single stream north of 520, and descending over Capitol Hill and the Central District.
You can request that the flight maps include altitudes, and I found that in addition to the significant shift in burden from the new flight path, the altitudes in 2002 and beyond were significantly lower. I can't fathom the reason for this. From both a post-9/11 FAA safety perspective, and from a noise reduction perspective, it makes absolutely no sense. So not only are all the planes lining up over our homes, but they're also flying significantly lower for longer periods. I've noticed this when I've flown and it's frustrating and scary even as a passenger. I've heard the engines have to rev up just to keep the speed to stay in the air long enough to make it to the airport. These engines rev up over our homes.
www.skyvector.com is a great website where you can look up aeronautical charts for all the major airports in the country. These are detailed maps that show altitude guidelines, as well as obstructions and other important details for pilots. On the map for Seattle, it shows an obstruction on Capitol Hill at 1092 feet, and yet the floor for the acceptable altitude is 1800 feet, leaving a clearance of only roughly 700 feet!! And this is roughly 15 miles from the airport! I am shocked that following 9/11 anyone would think a 700 foot clearance is acceptable anywhere, let alone in an urban neighborhood.
It turns out that in 2002 a "Part 150" study was conducted and some major changes were made to help mitigate noise impact. I'm not sure, but I believe that Part 150 is the part of the FAA regulation where the airport proprietors (Port of Seattle) make recommendations to the FAA to minimize flight noise impact. From what I can gather, the FAA looks to the proprietor to make recommendations regarding flight paths to minimize impact. Since the City, the County and the State also have an interest in a successful airport and happy communities, the Port is expected to work with them and the community to decide the best solution to the noise problem. It seems that each of these groups hung Capitol Hill and the Central District out to dry in 2002, and unfortunately, as a result of an overall reduction in the number of flights, the impact of this change wasn't fully realized until recently, when flight volumes are finally reaching the same levels as pre-9/11.
The next Part 150 Study won't occur until the third runway is complete, however, I believe we need to start gearing up right now. This is particularly true because we don't even have a noise monitor, so it will be difficult to quantify the impact on our communities. The only way to quantify the impact is through complaints and possibly legal action. We need to engage our political representatives and demand more from them.
What to do now?
  • Get involved. File complaints, every time you hear a loud plane, submit a complaint. Ask for a noise monitor in the Central District, under the flight path (TT Minor or Garfield would be a great location!!)
  • Get your local communities and government representatives involved. They need to help us make our neighborhoods more livable. Write the mayor, your city and county council members, your state representatives and the governor.
  • Raise awareness. Share information with your neighbors and friends. Get them thinking about and motivated by this unjust burden.
  • What else? I would like your ideas on effecting change.
Thanks for reading my first attempt at blogging!
seattlee

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

The issue of traffic lanes has less to do with posh neighborhoods and more to do with runway alignment. Which, if you've been following any of the Southwest-Boeing Field controversy is why the good people of Magnolia are opposed to that possible change.

SeaTac's 2 runways aim right at Downtown, and the third one is scheduled to do the same. So there's not much to do about flight paths. But I do think that a point can be made about altitude.

Recently around seattle there have been lots of low-ceiling days, where the clouds are hanging out around 3-4 thousand feet. The big airplanes on instruments can fly in the soup, but nobody wants to. So the pilots, I suspect, are requesting lower approach altitudes to stay under the ceiling. I live in Green Lake and that's definitly been my experience: the clouds bring the jets lower.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed incredibly low bellies of planes directly over my house through all sorts of weather. It's definately better during North flow, which has been more frequent in the last few weeks, however, I suspect something more than just the clouds is resulting in lower altitudes.

Also, the runways have always been there. The bellies of jets over my house have not. Something has definitely changed in the last few years.

Brenda Lee said...

Thanks D - good info, will forward to the neighbors on 20th!

Chef Brenda Lee

Anonymous said...

I am impressed with what you have discovered. This is a clear case for environmental justice concerns which is placing all the stuff no one else would put up with in lower income areas. I hope this is linked with those affected Neighborhood newspapers like the Beacon Hill News and Capitol Hill Ness.

Anonymous said...

We leave in Maple Leaf and this year is also louder. Big planes flying low. Are we not far enough to the airport, can't they descend once closer to the airport ?
I applaud your effort to try to change things.

Anonymous said...

It would help, of course, if the Port's Aviation Complaint Form actually worked. I have tried to use it, but it returns multiple errors claiming that fields I have filled out have not been filled out. I complained about *that* at a different page and have heard nothing.

Anonymous said...

I've been successful with the complaint form and I'm using it regularly. I also logged a complaint here: http://www.portseattle.org/about/contact/ and received a reply from an actual person at the Port of Seattle. The representative informed me that the Aviation Division would be in contact with me soon and if I heard nothing too please let her know.

When talking about this around the neighborhood, I've been puzzled by the response that I receive from people. Though everyone admits their quality of life is affected, it's seems that most people are just rolling over and acceptation the noise. It's a sad situation. It's great to find the information in this blog which I've been forwarding to folks in the area. It might be good to get some flyers made up for people that might not have access to the WWW.

TD said...

Seattlee, I'd love to exchange action item ideas for this issue if you have time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the info and some action we all can take, I have passed them on to two condominium communities (250 homeowner's) can get involved. Thanks!

Maggie Orth said...

Seattlee,

How do we ask for a noise monitor. This seems essential.

Maggie

Ugh! said...

I agree, they are getting louder and more frequent. And in order to protect communities closer to the airport, Capital Hill is negatively impacted. Frankly, I'm tired of that constant and uninterrupted drone in the background, and I'm upset that we live so far away from the airport, yet are inundated with constant flights overhead. Helicopters are on the rise too. How many news helicopters do we really need? Don't get me started about the float planes on lake Union. This is absolutely ridiculous. Unfortunately, I don't believe there is a solution. The powers that be will always have their way. Incidentally, I've lived in this neighborhood for 20 years and there were no planes overhead until the late '80s. I think that is when the port initiated noise abatement policies to protect the mitigate the sound in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the airport. But they are IMMEDIATELY surrounding the airport. Get it?

cleanlivin said...

i used to live in the Rocky Mountains where landing approaches were significantly shorter than what we see here in Seattle. I refuse to believe that changes can't be made to vary the alignment throughout the day for landings at SeaTac.

Thank you for creating this blog. I forwarded it to the Coleman Neighborhood Association chat list. Hopefully this will spark more interest in sharing the load of jet fuel with other neighborhoods besides Capitol Hill and the Central District.

Mick Feeble said...

Here is another website that will give you REAL TIME tracking data over Seattle, with altitude, plane type, and airline info. It is only delayed by about 10 minutes and gives inbound, outbound, Boeing, and Sea-Tac information.

For example, I was quickly able to determine that the massive plane that flew over the CD and woke me up at 4am was Korean Airlines flight 215, from San Francisco, a Boeing 747, at an altitude of about 2000 feet (above sea level, as you indicated).

I have become increasingly annoyed about this as well, and I think it is an incredible insult that they use the euphemistic phrase "Noise Abatement Program".

I understand that the runways line up (unfortunately, and stupidly) directly toward the city. But they could make an effort to sprinkle the traffic around this north-south corridor (and when I first moved to Seattle in 1999, they DID move it back and forth).

My guess is that there will be very little we can do about it. But I am willing to try whatever it takes to increase fairness for everyone.

Let me know if you would like any specific assistance.

Mick Feeble said...

whoops. forgot the link to the website:

http://sea.webtrak-lochard.com/template/index.html

it is a pretty cool tool.

Mick Feeble said...

Final comment for the day...

I agree with pretty much everything you said, but wanted to clarify one point. Regarding the obstruction on Capitol Hill. I would almost certainly guarantee that the 1082 foot obstruction is those communication antennas that are located at Madison and 18th, or so. The actual ground level at the highest points on Capitol Hill must be lower than 450 feet, since the absolute highest ground points (Maple Leaf, Queen Anne, etc) are at about 450 feet, and we're a good bit lower - probably 200-300 feet. So... with respect to ground level, 1800 feet over sea level is probably still safe.

But super loud :)

I wrote a letter to POS (funny, it occurs to me that there is another acronym that uses the letters POS, but I won't write it here!).

Also thinking about maybe starting a petition and taking it to local congressperson? Not sure if there is any hope with that endeavor. Let me know if you've had any experience with this.

Thanks again for the informative blog.

Carrieann said...

Interesting to know.

Mick Feeble said...

FYI... followup...

I did write to Jim McDermott, and I did write to POS. I received responses from both offices. POS gave me the blurb of information that I already knew from reading here and elsewhere, and let me know that they certainly reevaluate regularly to make sure that nothing is done unfairly. Yeah. McDermott's office wrote and basically said there's nothing that can be done and that it's the FAA that largely controls this.

So, enjoy the planes, and their awe-inspiring power. They're probably going to be flying over 18th Avenue from now until the time that hovercraft are available for all of us :)

musicadelaraza said...

I live on 15th and Yesler and am affected daily by the southbound and northbound jets and their noise. Sometimes they are so low it's scary! I work out of my home so I hear the noise from 5 a.m. to midnight. I read Seattlee's blog about noise monitors. I'm interested in being contacted by anyone who wants to be involved in organizing to get signatures and support to have noise monitors installed in the Capitol Hill and Central District areas as Seattlee suggested. I believe we can make a differenc. The effects of this noise pollution are direct and subliminal. Please respond to me at seawabear@yahoo.com

Aja said...

I'm so impressed with this, anything I can do to help beyond the complaints I've already lodged, let me know!

Patty said...

Hi, I have contacted Senator Adam Kline about this matter and he is willing to help. He did tell me the FAA has been unresponsive in the past. I am also trying to get the Port of Seattle Noise Abatement to come to the next Squire Park CC meeting 10/11/09 as well as Air Lift NW. Your support and involvement would be appreciated. E-mail me at seawabear@yahoo.com Thanks to Senator Adam Kline for his gracious and kind response to me.

Anonymous said...

Dear Senator Cantwell, it was a pleasure meeting you in your office a couple of years ago. I came twice and had my picture taken with you. I live on 15th & Yesler Way in the Central District. I work out of my home for Harborview so I am home everyday. I have noticed that we are directly under the Sea-Tac and Boeing field flight paths for north- and southbound flights taking off and landing. The noise is nonstop and begins at 0500 and sometimes lasts until 1:30 in the morning. I can't sleep. I can't open my windows. I can hear the constant roar of the jets even when my windows are closed and I live in a modern new building! Not only is the noise oppressive but many of the jets are flying very close and we as you know are on a ridge (we share this problem with Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill). I am writing to ask for your assistance. I would like to start with help in getting a noise monitor for our area so we can accumulate some hard data on the noise. We are also subject to many helicopter flybys due to increased service at Harborview/Air Lift NW's helipad. They have told me their helipad is accessed by other helicopter services in addition to their own who are bringing patients to Harborview. In one evening I counted six helicopters flying overhead. They also fly very low to us. All this is creating "industrial skies" and I feel we are being disproportionately subjected to more air traffic in terms of noise and low flying airplanes and helicopters. The planes are supposed to approach over the water but I don't think they are. I would like your assistance. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Patty Fong
Seattle, Washington

Kristy said...

We live on Beacon Hill and just recently had a conversation about how this year is so much worse that previous years. We live in the flight path and are shocked by how low the planes fly. And we are routinely woken up in the middle of the night by ridiculously loud planes. We will definitely start lodging complaints - thank you for posting this information!
Would you consider expanding your "noise" blog to include Beacon Hill? We share the same problems as Capitol Hill and the CD.

Patty said...

On October 11, the Squire Park Community Council will have its quarterly meeting at 10 am at C.A.M.P. We have invited the Port of Seattle Noise Abatement Office to come and answer questions. I would encourage you to come too. I am forming the Coalition of Environmental Equality to organize and file a class action lawsuit against the FAA and Port of Seattle for ignoring our communities and subjecting us to a horrific burden of constant noise and low-flying planes. The noise on 15th and Yesler has been constant all day and started at 0500 and the planes are very very low. Please contact me at seawabear@yahoo.com for more information.

Patty

Patty Fong said...

Follow-up Community Meeting on Airport Noise
Tuesday Evening
September 29th
7:00m to 9:00pm
WA State Criminal Justice Training Commission Auditorium: 19010—1st Ave S, Burien

"Sea-Tac Neighbors Filing Third Runway Suit", 6/15/09

http://www.nwcn.com/statenews/washington/stories/NW_061509WAB-seatac-runway-lawsuit-LJ.8230846c.html

Anonymous said...

I can sympathize with all of you. I have been resident of Maple Leaf for many years and the planes just started coming a month or so ago above my house. Very low (I can read their logo's) and very loud! Something has changed as now my house is right on the flight path. (or always has and they are flying lower??) It's almost like someone literally moved my house in the middle of night and stuck it right next to I-5 the noise is so loud and frequent. I am just stunned right now at how low, noisy, and frequent they are. I get them from the east as they make their turn to head to the airport and from the north (probably the same planes that are coming over your homes). It's just shocking in a really bad way. I have left several vm's and emails with the noise abatement people asking them what has changed but so far no response. Anyways, it's just incredible how bad it is.

Patty Fong said...

Come to the meeting I posted below on September 29. The Sea-Tac folks are filing a class action law suit against the Port for using the 3rd runway. That's what Maple leaf anonymous and musicadelaraza in the CD are experiencing. As I type this the noise is cruel and inhumane. There are several types of planes in five minutes. This has gone on all day all long. There is no relief. I love to keep the windows open and get the fresh air but the noise is inhumane. I don't know how the folks closer to the airport stand it. Go to the meeting!

David said...

As most of you are, I am incensed with the unbearably loud, constant aircraft noise. I don't remember having an issue with it until this summer (2011) when sitting on my new deck. I had a small party and none of us could carry on a conversation. I then realized that something had changed - and I know it is the low altitude these aircraft are allowed to fly and the frequency - the landings are literally every 30 seconds!

I have written all of the Seattle City Council members, as well as all of the Port Commissioners (what a laughing stock they are) asking for action to explain why this is happeniing and what will be done to correct it. I have also contacted the King 5 Investigators to see if they will pick this up. Next on my list is Senators Murry (probably way to busy fighting off critics now) and Cantwell, as well as all of the county council memebers and the applicable state representatives. I don't know if this is a big waste of time but I have to believe that we, as informed and outraged citizens, can make a difference. I am willing to protest in any way if we can organize something or be a participant in a lawsuit against the FAA and/or the Port of Seattle (who I have zero respect for).

If anyone has any current information as to what the status is of the protest movement or any news whatsoever I would appreciate a response.

I live in Mt. Baker and can't sleep at night - I can't imagine what it is like for the poor soles who live on Beacon Hill...my sympathies go out to you all!!

Patty Fong said...

@David in Mount Baker who posted on 11/21/11. Check out aviationjustice.org (see below) and get back to me at seawabear@yahoo.com for a bit more information about folks in this area who are active in the noise issue. - Patty Fong

http://aviationjustice.org/

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Anonymous said...

Well it's 2015 and I just counted the 125th jet over my house on 17th on Capitol Hill in the last 6.5 hours. Not much has changed since this informative blog was written in 2009. My family can identify the British Airways flight before it comes into view, by the way it's engines are sounding. I am a fairly frequent flyer and tell my family they can stand in the back yard and watch me fly over then they'll know it's time to go to SeaTac to pick me up. That's how unwittingly intimate we have become with the flight path. Regardless of runway direction, it is not true that the only option is to fly a 3 street wide swath almost all of the time. Are any of you on this thread still active and do you have any new information or updates as I would like to get involved.

Adam said...

And now it's 2017 Did something change that u know of? There's a FB group but they mostly care about South Seattle.