With the long-awaited return of warm weather, we’re at last spending more time outdoors, and opening our windows and doors to let in the fresh air and sunshine. But for many, something else seems to be coming in along with that — more noise from passing aircraft.
No, it’s not your imagination.
According to the monthly noise reports compiled by authorities at Everett’s Paine Field, there has been a marked increase in citizen complaints about aircraft noise since the March 2019 start of commercial flight operations. These reports chart the number of flight operations and compares this with the number of noise complaints received. They reveal a slight uptick in flight operations, reflecting the addition of 24 commercial flights per day (note that each flight involved two operations, a landing and a takeoff, so commercial flights have added 48 operations to the total), but show show a 10-fold spike in noise complaints.
So what’s going on? Are the planes flying lower? Does their route take them directly over populated areas? Are the aircraft being used for commercial fights particularly noisy?
Turns out there’s no simple answer, and according to Paine Field spokesperson Scott North a number of factors are in play.
“Many folks are under the misconception that flight paths represent set routes that aircraft take when approaching or taking off from our airport,” he explained. “While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides flight path maps as a general guideline, how each plane approaches and leaves the airport is determined individually by the FAA air traffic controllers in the tower. Factors including wind direction, time of day, visibility conditions, presence of other aircraft and more determine the minute-to-minute decisions of the controllers about altitude, flight path, turns and when to speed up or slow down for each individual aircraft in the airspace. The goal is to manage air traffic congestion to maximize safety, and this frequently results in considerable variation from the general flight paths laid out on the FAA maps.”
Regarding the aircraft themselves, according to North both commercial operators at Paine (Alaska and United) presently use only Embraer 175s, which along with the Boeing 737 are the two aircraft approved under the FAA environmental assessment to operate commercially from Paine Field. Presently no 737s are being used for commercial flights.
While these are both modern, relatively quiet aircraft, North was quick to point out that other planes using Paine Field are much noisier.
“We also support frequent military operations including the ‘growler’ fast-mover fighter jets typically associated with the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island, as well as regular takeoffs and landings of Boeing Dreamlifters,” he explained. “Dreamlifters, essentially supersized Boeing 747s adapted to carry big cargo loads, keep the supply of large airplane components flowing to the Everett Boeing assembly lines. Both these aircraft have always been major sources of noise complaints.”
Regarding the recent uptick in reports of noise concerns, North concedes that this does coincide with the March advent of commercial flights from Paine. He cautions though that much of this increase is “coming from a handful of people making multiple reports” (in April 2019, for example, 53% of noise complaints originated from the same five households). And he adds that many may be the result of aircraft associated with other airports (e.g., SeaTac, Boeing Field, Whidbey Naval Air) passing through the Paine Field airspace but not taking off or landing at Paine.
While the exact number of operations per day varies, Paine Field currently supports up to 400 operations daily, which includes the 48 commercial takeoffs and landings, military and general aviation. Asked about the possibility of future increases in commercial operations at Paine, North would only say that at this time there are no applications for more flights, and that should any be received they would be subject to the full FAA review and approval process.
If you are being bothered by what seems like increasing aircraft noise, North urges you to fill out and submit an online noise complaint report on the Paine Field website.
— By Larry Vogel