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FAA test project could mean quieter skies for Capitol Hill

The roar of jetplanes overhead may become a quaint memory for folks on Capitol Hill and in the Central District, thanks to a new test project by the Federal Aviation Administration. The test, which changes up the flight patterns and landing procedures for incoming planes, could also mean greener, more efficient flying overall. A win-win situation if there ever was one, and a pleasant shift from what looked like a seemingly hopeless situation for noise beleaguered residents in the area.

As The Seattle Times reports, the tests that began Monday night use satellite signals to guide planes down Sea-Tac’s runway and glide the plane down to a landing by idling its engines, saving precious jet fuel and lowering harmful emissions. And of the greatest impact to Cap Hill and Central District residents: incoming planes from the south that need to bypass Sea-Tac and turn around for landing will no longer pass over North Seattle neighborhoods. Instead, flight paths will take incoming planes over Elliott Bay, restoring peace to our jet-shaken neighborhoods. 

The test landing procedures saw the light of day briefly in 2009, as the Seattle Times reported.  The new tests are part of a fuller launch, which the Times details further below:

The so-called “Greener Skies Over Seattle” flight trials will continue for up to six months, involving some of the passenger flights flown by Alaska Air, Horizon Air, US Airways and SkyWest. The aircraft-navigation technology was pioneered by Alaska Airlines, which in 2009 used the system on late-night test flights into Sea-Tac — without paying passengers. The FAA project is part of a massively complicated and expensive revamp of the U.S. air traffic control system — known nationally as NextGen — that must be implemented airport by airport. The new technologies and procedures have to work alongside the current ground-based aircraft-navigation system. And they must be introduced without a pause, much less a disruption, to the immense flow of daily air traffic in U.S. skies.

For now the tests will be limited to late-night flights — but next week, after the kinks are all worked out, the landing procedure will be applied to day flights as well. The procedure will cut 14 to 26 miles of flying for incoming planes, reducing jet noise for 750,000 North Seattle residents. The new routes and procedures are projected to completely open for all flights early next year. 

Hat tip to our neighbors at the Montlaker for bringing this update on the ongoing changes to Sea-Tac flight patterns to our attention.

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Andrew Taylor
10 years ago

I presume that planes won’t make tight turns like this while taking off, which is inherently more noisy anyway i.e. engines at full thrust while gaining height.

So whenever the wind is from the north and the planes are taking off northwards (into the wind), they will be as noisy as ever. My favorite is the lumbering full British 747 that thunders overhead at ~ 6 PM.

10 years ago

true enough, but the FAA says planes leaving Sea Tac depart to the North about 40% of the time….a 60% reduction in planes flying overhead, whether it be arriving or departing, sounds good to me!

Gregg Daniel Miller
10 years ago

This is tremendous news. The peace between the planes has long held the promise that ours is a decent place. More, more!

10 years ago

One of my favorite Seattle sounds is that BA flight 48. The roar of those engines launching the 747-400 aloft is so powerful. If I’m within ear- and eyeshot of it, I usually drop what I’m doing to watch it head Northeast.

10 years ago

Ha I thought i was the only BA48 fan. Super awesome watching it climb up over Capitol Hill, usually around 7pm towards the end of my run.

10 years ago

I have grown use to the roar since moving into my apartment near Volunteer Park in 2004 (especially in the evening). The noise didn’t bother me because I really appreciate living on The Hill, making a living, and enyoying my life. If the noise reduces, it is just a sweet reward.

10 years ago

Hm! I’ve only ever noticed the inbound on final approach between 16.30 and 18.00. I will keep an eye and ear peeled from now on!

10 years ago

This is cool and all, but honestly I never even notice planes flying overhead.