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    Jet noise jeopardy: Seattle’s skies will soon get quieter — except on Beacon Hill

    Southeast Seattleites rebel after years of noise dumping and disdain. A lesson from Magnolia: Call your congressman and senators.
    Anticipated noise-level changes under the FAA's Greener Skies initiative. Brown means more aircraft noise, green less.

    Anticipated noise-level changes under the FAA's Greener Skies initiative. Brown means more aircraft noise, green less. Greener Skies Environmental Assessment

    Current jet noise levels. Beacon Hill, in blue, is classed in the 56-60 decibel range.

    Current jet noise levels. Beacon Hill, in blue, is classed in the 56-60 decibel range. Greener Skies Environmental Assessment

     Outline of common flight paths coming in and out of SeaTac. Areas affected include Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, South Park, Highline, and others. Created based on modeled flight plans from the <a href="http://www.greenerskiesea.com/documents.html" target="_blank">Greener Skies Environmental Assessment</a>.

    Outline of common flight paths coming in and out of SeaTac. Areas affected include Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, South Park, Highline, and others. Created based on modeled flight plans from the Greener Skies Environmental Assessment. Seth Vincent/Crosscut

    The Port's current and future noise mitigation boundaries, with a smaller noise-impact "contour" projected.

    The Port's current and future noise mitigation boundaries, with a smaller noise-impact "contour" projected. SEA Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study Presentation

    For decades, aviation visionaries have touted a coming revolution in avionics and piloting called “free flight,” when communications and computational technology will free commercial flying from the limitations and inefficiencies of ground-based traffic control. This year the next stage in free flight’s evolution will debut in Seattle, preparatory to a national roll-out, under the uplifting moniker Greener Skies. Those living in the flight path may find its auditory effects less uplifitng.

    By relying on satellite-based GPS and onboard software, pilots will descend smoothly, precisely, and continuously to Sea-Tac, rather than loudly “stair-stepping” down in stages under ground-control direction. This will enable the airlines to reduce both their descent footprints — following tighter, narrower corridors — and their fuel consumption. For the residents of many communities alongside the descent corridors, this will mean less jet noise. But not for the most afflicted: those who live right under corridors that will become increasingly dense with descending jets.

    Greener Skies' environmental assessment, which the Federal Aviation Administration approved in November, finds that noise impacts will diminish in broad vertical swaths from Wallingford and Fremont to downtown Seattle and Federal Way on the west and from Lake City to the Rainier Valley to the town of Pacific. But they’ll increase along the axis of Sea-Tac Airport’s runways, over Greenlake, the U-District, Capitol Hill, and, especially, Beacon Hill.

    The reason, ironically, is greater efficiency: With GPS-guided continuous descent, air traffic will pack more tightly into the preferred north-south corridors and a diversion route over Elliott Bay (so Admiral and Alki will also get more noise). FAA officials contend that the additional noise impacts will be “indistinguishable,” less than 1.5 decibels more than present levels.

    This news comes as a cruel joke to Beacon Hill residents, who’ve learned through long experience not to take the claims of aviation and airport officials at face value. Together with adjacent Georgetown, Beacon Hill is the most jet-rattled part of Seattle; it has suffered for decades from an excess of aircraft presence and an insufficiency of official concern. Sea-Tac’s north-flow departure route, used when the wind blows from the north, and south-flow arrival route, used when it blows from the south, run right along the hill’s long spine before diverging toward Elliott Bay and Lake Washington.

    Living on Queen Anne, I used to snarl at the planes that occasionally roared overhead, mistaking or ignoring their designated approach over Elliott Bay. But I realized how much worse things could get when I spent a few summer hours in the otherwise tranquil Lockmore subdivision on Beacon Hill seven years ago. It was a shooting gallery; planes roared over in a stream, a minute or so apart. Conversation would stop, then resume when a particularly noisy one passed.

    Otherwise, Beacon Hill, with its single-family character, wide views and proximity to downtown, would seem situated to be one of Seattle’s more desirable neighborhoods. Instead, the real estate site Zillow pegs its median home value at $289,500, just three-quarters the citywide median. “I sell homes here,” says real estate agent Erik Stanford, who’s lived on the hill for 25 years. “I used to tell people that unless you’re really sensitive, the noise isn’t so bad, that you get used to it. I can’t tell them that anymore.” Other residents say the same thing, only more vehemently.

    FAA and Sea-Tac officials though, say flight volumes and noise impacts have actually declined in recent years, thanks to the recession and to the airlines flying quieter jets.

    Stanford, who spearheads a Southeast Seattle group pointedly named the Quieter Skies Task Force, is the latest in a line of Southeast Seattle residents-turned-activists to take up the air noise cause. He struggles with the same challenges and frustrations as his predecessors: trying to organize a multilingual, multiracial community that’s tended to be fragmented and politically passive; dealing with a federal bureaucracy whose mission is all about moving planes, not safeguarding the quality of life down below; and complaining fruitlessly to an airport authority that monitors noise levels, but insists it can’t do anything to change them.

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    Posted Mon, Jan 14, 9:09 a.m. Inappropriate

    RE jet emissions, I use them as an excuse for not having a tomato or cucumber patch in my backyard. (I live in Magnolia.) Several years ago and only a week after SPU had delivered a new recycling bin, its top was covered with black 'stuff', otherwise known as airplane emissions.

    I believe this is a valid evironmental concern.


    Posted Mon, Jan 14, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's not average noise or adjusted noise that's the problem. It's peak noise that wakes us up at 2 AM on Beacon Hill. These middle-of-the night landings are mostly freighters. They could delay until daytime and land with the passenger planes. Also, since the politicians are talking about reduced government spending, they could consider cutting back on operating hours for the airspace and airports.

    Posted Mon, Jan 14, 10:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    The noise complaint web site for the Port of Seattle is here:

    It is always worth filling out a complaint.

    I have been involved in monitoring the current Part 150 process. The Port of Seattle and FAA have also had Part 150s in the past. The current one kicked off in late 2009 with the selection of Landrum and Brown as Part 150 consultant. The project is significantly behind schedule and for more than 18 months there has been essentially zero communication to people who showed up at the kickoff meetings. The Port did send an email recently saying that on Jan 22, the commission will be receiving an update. Here is an excerpt from the email:

    --excerpt begins--

    January 22nd Port Commission Meeting on Part 150 Study Meeting to be held at the Conference Center at Sea-Tac Airport at 1 PM

    The Port of Seattle Commission’s January 22nd regular meeting will include an update on Sea-Tac Airport’s Part 150 Noise Study. The update will include information on the draft recommended options for reducing aircraft noise in the new proposed noise remedy area around the airport.

    The Part 150 Study will be available for public review sometime after the January 22nd Commission meeting. The dates of the Part 150 public comment period, along with the date of the final public outreach event, will be announced in the near future.

    For your convenience, please visit the dedicated Part 150 Study website (http://www.airportsites.net/SEA-Part150/) for all documentation connected to the study.

    --excerpt ends--

    When the third runway opened, the Port repeatedly said "Part 150 is where we will address noise issues." Many citizens said "please use Part 150 to look at noise issues beyond any type of contours that are mentioned in the regulations." Sadly, that has not happened. The Port Commission, the FAA, and the Port noise staff all point to Someone Else.

    I highly doubt any of the hundreds of people who bothered to show up at the community meetings has any confidence at all that Part 150 findings will actually make a positive difference in the noise they experience. But, the commission on Jan 22 has an opportunity to prove this assertion wrong. Will they take it?


    Posted Mon, Jan 14, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    Here is the noise complaint form web site:



    Posted Mon, Jan 14, 8:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    What about tapping two potential sources of funding to help mitigate this problem - noise abatement and energy conservation? My understanding was when Congress passed the "Cash for Caulkers" legislation providing subsidies for home energy audits and retrofits that they had a hard time finding places to spend the money. I would imagine communities in SE Seattle would welcome some additional insulation around now which could add to their comfort and reduce their heating bills. In the mean time its important to remember you get as much justice as you demand and bureaucracies will ignore you as long as you let them.

    Posted Wed, Jan 16, 5:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    Unfortunately we live in a temperate climate so for a good part of the year it is actually nice to open windows rather than living in a sealed environment full of stale and unhealthy air.

    I live in NE Seattle under the flight paths and a comparable source of annoying nighttime summer noise are (empty) buses laboring up the hill 2 blocks from my house at 5 AM in the morning.


    Posted Sat, Jan 19, 8:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    By appearances, Mr. Scigliano describes the existing situation with regards to SeaTac noise footprints and monitoring.

    What Mr. Scigliano fails to do is to adequately report the technology that the Greener Skies initiative incorporates.

    As this article in the Seattle PI explains, Greener Skies is a combination of using GPS to plot a more direct route to the airport AND a continuous descent without the stair-step that current approaches mandate.

    See here: http://blog.seattlepi.com/worldairlinenews/2010/07/23/alaska-airlines-greener-skies-test-flight-lowers-emissions-by-35/

    As documented in the Seattle PI article, Alaska Airlines was able to demonstrate a 35% reduction in fuel burn through the use of Required Navigation Procedures (RNP) which Greener Skies encompasses.

    And this is where Scigliano should have dug a little deeper and explained a little more thoroughly. A reduction of fuel burn of 35% is also a reduction in pollution and a reduction in noise. It is the continuous descents characteristic of RNP that eliminate the need to throttle back-up to hold airspeed that results in the elevated community noise levels.

    RNP permits airplanes to more-or-less glide under idle thrust from cruise altitudes down to landing. So when current Mt. Baker residents complain of current airplane noise, it primarily is due to airplanes having to throttle-up to maintain airspeed and/or separation in approach traffic.

    If one takes Scigliano's reporting at face value, one might be skeptical of the FAA's predictions based upon their previous history. But I would expect that any law suit to halt implementation of Greener Skies into SeaTac would not be sustained without expert testimony that would discount the FAA's contention that the continuous descent profiles would result in comparable community noise levels along the new flight paths.

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