Town Of Burien, Washington Stops FAA From Sending Flights Over Its Skies

When residents complain about airport noise I’m not usually sympathetic, the airport was there before you were and planes aren’t as noisy as they used to be. And when you see thousands of noise complaints about an airport it’s frequently just one to three residents making them all believe it or not (the complaints process has been automated).

One resident in Northwest DC accounted for 6852 of 8760 (78%) of noise complaints about Washington National airport in 2015.

One person 30 miles away accounted for 3555 of 4870 (73%) of noise complaints about Denver airport. 4 people accounted for 96% of complaints in 2015.

One person 11 miles away accounted for 1024 of 1223 (84%) of noise complaints about Washington Dulles airport in 2015.

Looking only at June 2015 data, 1 person accounted for 50% and 3 people accounted for 88% of noise complaints about LAX.

And since noise complaints can be a tool to stop development it’s not even always noise that’s motivating the complaints. Donald Trump once sued Palm Beach County for $100 million claiming they’d conspired with the FAA to direct traffic over Mar-a-Lago.

It’s a little bit more complicated when air traffic gets redirected over a town where it didn’t previously go. The town of Burien, Washington won a victory over the FAA at the 9th circuit court of appeals.

Copyright: carlosyudica / 123RF Stock Photo

Horizon Air Q400 aircraft frequently turn over Burien departing Seattle in order to get out of the way for faster jets. The FAA has been ordered to consider its traffic management incorporating “all reasonably foreseeable future actions, including those which may impact” the City of Burien. Essentially, the 9th Circuit argues the FAA didn’t do all of the required analysis a bureaucracy is supposed to do.

According to the ruling (.pdf),

The Procedure automates a formerly manual process of assigning headings to such turboprops, and has the effect of concentrating lowflying planes over Burien after takeoff. Burien argues that the FAA failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., when it approved the Procedure

…We agree that the FAA acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to consider all “reasonably foreseeable” future actions at Sea-Tac in its analysis of whether a cumulative impacts extraordinary circumstance existed. 40 C.F.R. §1508.7.

It’s rough to have air traffic redirected over your head, and any city will use whatever means are at its disposal to stop it.

Once the FAA goes back and considers all ‘reasonably foreseeable’ future actions stemming from its decision, it should be able to redirect traffic as it believes best – unless the town of Burien is as tenacious in its lobbying as it’s been in litigation.

(HT: Greg R.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I was in the Navy and the house I lived in was less than 1 mile from the end of the runway for a Marine Corp Air Station in the southern United States. Give me a Q400 any day of the week versus an F-18 doing touch and goes or carrier qualifications over my house just a few hundred feet off the ground at all hours of the day and night. Never complained once. That noise was the sound of freedom.

  2. Surprised to see this as Burien is just south of SeaTac. Living in Bellevue, we get plenty of air traffic, especially on the weekends. Just part of living in major metropolitan area. We travel 30-35,000 miles a year and appreciate having a major airport close by.

  3. Ugh. Q400’s are very quiet even on climb out. Burien is right next to SEA to the west, and did not exist as a town when the airport was built. While the city got its win under the Administrative Procedure Act, the more people who moved in next to the airport by choice get to dictate procedures to the whole region, the worse off everyone is.

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