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29 June, 2008

Flight paths...

Location: anywhere in Seattle
Mood: deafening

One thing that I found interesting when I first moved to Seattle, and was working at the UW was that you could see the airplanes on their approach to Sea-Tac, because they would fly over the University heading south (usually). And I was intrigued by it. I tried to identify the different planes. And I learned all sorts of interesting phenomena, including the typical patterns - most traffic on most days would be heading south on arrival. Except in the evenings, you would see some transcontinental flights heading out to the north around 6pm or so each day. I even knew which airlines they were (British Air, SAS, Northwest), and what types of airplanes they were (747, Airbus A-340). It was interesting trivia.

But after living here for almost 9 years, there is now one specific thing that I notice about the flight paths. No matter where you live in the main part of Seattle, you are on a flight path, and it will be noisy, all day, every day from 6am until 1am or 2am. Constant noise.

And this has irked me. What I have never been able to understand is the following: Given that Seattle is located practically on the ocean, why can't they direct all flights over the water (either Lake Washington, or the Puget Sound) rather than directly over Seattle (from Northgate, all the way to Sea-Tac, they go straight in).

I have always wondered, "Where would I address a complaint?", with full knowledge that there will not be a damn fucking thing that I could do about the noise, since I am sure that since this airport's inception (it was built in 1944), there have probably been thousands of people who have complained.

So I did a Google search today, and I found out that there is a webpage specifically discussing "noise abatement" efforts. However, from looking at this page, I do not see how this is noise abatement, anymore than I see "attack plans" as being part of a "peace initiative".

First of all, some facts. MOST of the time, as you probably can tell, the airplanes travel toward the south over the city; i.e. arrival. It seems that when the weather is clear, they switch to the opposite direction, where planes depart to the north over the city, but since it is mostly cloudy here, that means that we get more time with planes landing over the city than taking off. Correct me if I am wrong, somebody, will you?

So, the main map that we need to consider is the "South Flow" map. It is here:


In this picture, orange is arrival, and green is departure. So for Seattle proper, it is the orange we look at. And basically what this is saying is that every single plane that arrives on this approach will fly over the entire length of Seattle from Northgate, through Downtown, including U-District, Greenlake, Capitol Hill.

The other pattern, which is the rarer one (taking off to the north) still has ALL traffic going over Downtown and Capitol Hill:


At least this pattern they break off just south of Lake Union, sparing most of North Seattle (the exceptions you see are the few green strands that probably constitute the transatlantic flights that continue all the way to the north).

My question to you is: "How exactly is this 'noise abatement'?"

It seems to me it is just basically proof that they are taking the most noise-polluting path that could possibly be taken. Unfortunately, now that you look at this map and you think about the size of these aircraft, and their velocity, I think the answer to our noise question is probably an engineering constraint. With the orientation of the runways, for safety purposes, there are really no other options than to fly directly over the city!



See, the airport runways are oriented north to south, and the airport is due south of the city. How was this a good design? Well, I guess just like so many other things, they did not think about the future development of the city, and about how planes would get bigger and require longer approach paths. Nope. Just like every other piece of infrastructure in Seattle, they fucked this one up too.

Take, for example, Chicago. Multiple runways are oriented on horizontal, and at every 45 degree angle, with Chicago to the southeast of the airport by about 16 miles.

But, I guess I haven't spent much time in Chicago, so maybe I should shut up and stop complaining.

However, now that I have read further, I am not going to shut up:

Consider the following quote from this article written a number of years ago:

"It is important to note though that the problem at STIA [Sea-Tac International Airport] is one of the worst in the country"

Indeed this has been an ongoing problem and story for years, and there have been battles over new runways, changing of flight paths, etc.

AND... I just found the coolest thing ever!! So cool it gets a separate blog entry!

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