Hearing more aircraft noise lately? You’re not alone

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    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

    7 COMMENTS

    1. I live right in the flight path near Lake Ballinger and have normal hearing. The only planes we still ever notice enough to stop what we are doing and look up, are the Dream Lifters and the Lake Union Kenmore float planes that go fairly low right over our house.

      When inside we hear only the float planes.

      I do enjoy hearing the B-17 periodically (like yesterday) coming from afar, going around, and heading back, taking veterans and others on a memorable flight. The B17 reminds me that airplanes put Seattle on the world map and were instrumental in winning WWII.

      If others choose to spend their days listening for airplanes, they will surely hear them. So far we appreciate the airport and airlines doing what they can the last 40 years to mitigate their necessary noise, and so far we think they are not a problem.

      Ken

    2. I live under the flight path and unfortunately work nights. I’m woken up more now than before commercial flights started. These commercial planes are 200ft above my house. The other day I couldn’t hear my headphones over the aircraft noise. There have been times I couldn’t hear my tv over it.

    3. I have heard that the agreed-upon flight path (in order to expand Paine Field service) was to be over 1-5, and then west across a very specific industrial zone. Anyone have information to corroborate that? The concept here is that any commercial plane going over Mountlake Terrace houses is “shortcutting” and violating the agreement made in the authorization of the expansion of service. Now – your article does address the variation that is possible via air traffic control. I wonder if the instances of variation that push traffic over residences in MLT is within the anticipated amount, or if it’s more than expected? Noise complaints would seem to indicate it’s more than expected…

      • Those are good questions and I’m not sure of the answer. However, one of our readers did ask us to pass along this comment:

        “There is a free app from the CDC called NIOSH Sound Level Meter that is the standard.

        https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/pdfs/NIOSH-Sound-Level-Meter-Application-app-508.pdf

        It records noise levels for a time also. I suggest that you suggest to your readers to download this app and test for themselves.

        The readers may be surprised at both the background noise and just trucks and buses driving by.

        It also has lots of information on sounds and injury, which should be read.

        Damage to hearing can happen with very very loud noises, but most happen when your ears are exposed to 85dB or above for a continuous hour.

        There is no question that loud music directly into an earbud has damaged millions of young ears.”

    4. Yes, my husband and I have noticed the increased noise from air traffic. Will the council research this for us? …or someone? I would be interested in seeing the “agreement” you referred to. As residents of MLT that should’ve been common knowledge. Is there a way to get that agreement published in this forum?

    5. Growing up in Burien, directly underneath the flight pattern to Seatac, the noise was something we just all became accustomed too. I don’t even here the planes here in Terrace.

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