Anne-Marije Rook
David Ortman has been spending a lot of time looking at the sky in annoyance. "Flight traffic has increased significantly in my experience," he said. "To say we don't have a noise problem would be a lie. It's not the decibels, it's the constant nuisance like mosquitoes in a tent."

“Like mosquitoes in a tent”: Ballardite concerned about frequent overflying planes

When longtime environmentalist David Ortman moved to the quiet neighborhood of Loyal Heights, the least he expected was that years later he would become engrossed with commercial airplanes.

"Flight traffic has increased significantly in my experience," Ortman said. "To say we don't have a noise problem would be a lie. It's not the decibels, it's the constant nuisance like mosquitoes in a tent."

After getting the runaround when trying to file noise complaints with the Port of Seattle and the Federal Aviation Administration, Ortman started to investigate the issue himself.

Since July 2010, Ortman has chronicled well over 2,000 Sea-Tac flights that flew right over his chimney, many at or below 3,000 feet.

Using the Port of Seattle's Webtrak, an online flight monitoring system, Ortman writes down the flight number, time, altitude, and destination.

"Sometimes planes fly-over mere minutes apart," he said. "I have clocked them as early as 4:40 a.m. and as late as 1:30 a.m. That leaves me with only three hours of quiet."

Ortman said the planes are loud enough to be heard over a radio or TV and fly low enough that he can practically count the windows.

Working from home, Ortman said he sometimes has to leave the house.

"I'm at home when others are at work and the noise is not conducive to my working hours," he said. "When you're living in Capitol Hill or Beacon Hill, you're aware that you're in the landing path. But I moved to the nice, quiet community of Loyal Heights, far away from Sea-Tac."

Ortman has called into the Sea-Tac Airport Noise Information Line numerous times and has been told that the routes are dictated by the FAA, which controls airspace, and there's little the Port can do.

"The flight noise has to be over 65 decibels to be considered a violation," Ortman said. "SeaTac and Federal Way are the only area they mitigate noise because of the decibel levels but that doesn't mean noise problems don't exist elsewhere."

In response, Perry Cooper from the Port of Seattle said that while flight patterns overall have not changed in the past year, the weather has played a factor in a small difference of air traffic.

"The flight paths have not changed altitude. Aircraft are sequenced into this flight path anywhere from Elliott Bay to Everett depending on the amount of traffic and where the aircraft is coming from. It’s like merging onto a freeway from different on-ramp points. This is nothing new," Cooper said.

"This year’s cooler, cloudier weather has seen more south flow air traffic into the airport. We have been in south flow a little over 80 percent of the year when normally we are in south flow 65-70 percent of the time.

"This is based on the wind direction and Mother Nature, something the Port or the FAA cannot change. Aircraft have to fly into the wind and the flow of traffic changes based on wind direction."

Additionally, Cooper said that overall operations have gone down the last few years as airlines have consolidated flights, adding larger aircraft instead of multiple flights for the same route.

Yet Ortman disagrees. Running outside at all times of the day to snap pictures of overflying planes and tracking them on Webtrak, Ortman is building a portfolio to back up his complaint.

"The whole point is that for Ballard this is a new issue," he said. "It's not the private planes or the water planes or even the Boeing planes which disturb Queen Anne and Magnolia. These are commercial planes headed to Sea-Tac."

Ortman plans to mobilize fellow North Ballardites around this issue and contact the Ballard District Council and even Senator Murray if he has to, to get answers regarding the "strange flight patterns" over Seattle.


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