ANALYSIS: Blame the Blue Angels for planes still flying low over Burien


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By Jack Mayne

If you are a Burien resident still hearing airplanes zooming over your home at all hours every time the prevailing wind is from the south, blame it on the Blue Angels.

The turns over Burien are not back – as some residents may believe – they just never were banned despite the general interpretation of an April 10 letter to Burien Mayor Lucy Krakowiak (read that here).

That letter said the Federal Aviation Administration’s Northwest Mountain region was removing the order for automatic turns of mostly propjet commuter planes from the 2016 Approach Control Service and Coordination Procedures Letter of Agreement.

So, no more wholesale routing of planes over Burien was the quickly popular view of city officials and of media (including this reporter).

It took Quiet Skies President Larry Cripe, a longtime Burien resident and retired Alaska Airlines pilot, to tell The B-Town Blog that we were not reading the bureaucratic language properly and that overflights were continuing albeit a few less of them.

Instead of automatic turns prescribed by written rules, now air traffic controllers either approve requests from individual pilots for the left turn or they simply order a specific plane to make the turn. But it is on a case-by-case basis so, arguably, there are fewer low-flying noise and pollution makers over Burien resident’s heads.

So, how do the Blue Angels figure into the mix? The first thing you must know about the FAA is that it is a very secretive agency. Calls from news reporters are treated as minor annoyances and often ignored. Calls from public officials are treated with utmost respect, but usually placed on an administrative list that may some day get attention. If the request is simple and acceptable, the answer is quick. Otherwise….

For now, the administration is pondering, or in their words:

“The FAA is currently evaluating the use of this pre-coordinated 250° heading and conducting a comprehensive review of the historic use of this flight corridor. For many years, the FAA has utilized the 250° heading for propeller driven aircraft departures during north flow operations as a safe and efficient way to disperse and separate the propeller driven aircraft from jet aircraft.”

Get the little jobs out of the way of the big guys – almost makes sense, eh?

Until last July 26 the controllers had to handle each plane separately but the process “increased complexity and entered a safety risk” into the airspace system.

So it made the turn west automatic and that means there is no back and forth over the radio to order the change from the tower, or approve the change to turn if it comes from the individual pilot.

One thing that we non-pilots do not understand is that such changes and approvals are not a simple “Can we?” and “Sure, go ahead.” It is a complex routine that ensures both the pilot and the controller know exactly what is going to happen.

Remember, there are a lot of planes in the airspace, and a little screw-up can mean a horrible disaster with many killed and property destroyed.

Blue Angel connection
When the famous Navy fancy fliers started performing at Seafair, the FAA got permission to automatically turn planes taking off toward the north, to turn west, at the 250-degree turn mentioned earlier.

The reason was obvious: Keep passenger planes away from fast maneuvering stunt flights.

Now, Cripe and Quiet Skies believes the FAA thinks it can use that exception any time it wants.

Not understood by some, the April 10 letter to Burien says the routing over Burien will continue on an as-needed basis because of the “nearly 9 percent increase in operations between 2015 and 2016.

“The historical use of the westbound turn has allowed the FAA to improve safety and balance the additional demand at Sea-Tac.”

So whenever the controllers in the tower or the pilots in each plane ask for the quick turn over Burien, it is likely the “Blue Angel effect” will be permitted to the unhappiness of Burien residents.

But Larry Cripe says Burien’s petition for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the environmental impact of the flights over Burien should also include a decision on whether a change in rules for a specific annual event be a way for the FAA to turn planes over the city anytime it is useful.

“We categorically deny that the agreement can be used that way,” said Cripe, “we are going to fight it.”

So, unless the Court of Appeals agrees with Quiet Skies and says the exception is for one week a year, not for anytime somebody wants it to happen.

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Comments

13 Responses to “ANALYSIS: Blame the Blue Angels for planes still flying low over Burien”
  1. Eagle says:

    Important clarifications. Thank you for this. I am still hopeful in the Coalition and City’s efforts to follow this all the way through. We receive enough airport noise just based on our proximity of the airport so it is just they not be permitted to double down by flying over our heads as well.

    Rate: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 6

  2. Peter says:

    I think the headline, “blame the Blue Angels” is misleading. Maybe the westbound turns over Burien were started in response to the Blue Angels, but they have nothing to do with the FAA’s continued use of the “exception” long after the Blue Angels have left.

    Rate: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 8

  3. Mayor McCheese says:

    This Burien flight path fight with the FAA sounds very similar to a fight in NYC.

    http://www.timesledger.com/stories/2015/50/koonoise_web_2015_12_11_q.html

    The FAA temporarily changed its normal flight path over the US Open tournament site and never changed it back.

    Sue these scumbags already!

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  4. Captain obvious says:

    I feel better knowing if a pilot feels it makes a trip safer taking a turn then so be it. A little noise is a lot better than a plan crashing obviously. I think we should all be able to understand safety. I don’t like the noise at 4 in the morning but I also don’t want a plane landing on my house.

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    • Peter says:

      Will wonders never cease – I agree (somewhat) with Captain Obvious. Aye Aye Captain!

      Rate: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 12

    • Jack Meoff says:

      You’re kidding, right? You think this is just about flight safety? “A little noise” is only the beginning!

      Rate: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 5

      • Captain obvious says:

        Well Mr meoff in the 30 plus years I have lived in the area this is the first time they done this. Other than for the blue Angels or other events. Celebrities or the president coming to town.

        We live between two airports​ one major international and one non international. Having plane’s turning seems pretty legit to me.

        Also on a side note is your refrigerator running. Mr Jack Meoff

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  5. Ctac says:

    Can’t stand the rain? Move away! Can’t stand the planes? Move away!ect..

    Rate: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 14

  6. Ann says:

    When the prevailing wind is from the North (not the South) is when the sharp left turn over Burien is useful to the pilot. I think the article should be titled, “Blame the airline pilot requesting a modified departure procedure for the planes still flying over Burien.”

    Pilot: Seattle Clearance, Alaska 123 requests a modified departure procedure to include turning left to heading 250 after climbing to 400 feet.

    Controller: Request approved

    I don’t know why the process would need to be more complicated than that.

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  7. Shaela says:

    To Whom wrote this article: This is the most ridiculous subject to talk about. With other
    issues in this state that need more attention. I have lived under the Seatac flight path all my life and don’t have any problem whatsoever over airplane noise. I actually love it. Plus we have a view of the Seatac Airport. I choose to live in Burien because I love it here. More people are coming to this state for jobs and tourism, which is good for our economy. Get here and enjoy this beautiful state people fly here in airplanes its only to get busier so get over it. As for blaming the Blue Angels… are you kidding?? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. If you don’t like this state just leave! By the way, the latest FAA re-routing of Alaska’s aircraft, has ZERO effect on the Blues’ show pattern that they perform every Seafair. Do your homework.

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  8. Dave says:

    This article is absurd. Whoever wrote this, not only did not do their homework, but is just stirring a pot you don’t belong in. Btw, the FAA doesn’t get permission from anyone. THEY OWN IT!

    Rate: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 15

    • Elston Hill says:

      I thought SEATAC airport was OWNED and operated by the Port of Seattle. The FAA may control the planes in flight and on the airfield, but it does not own the airport.

      Rate: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  9. Robbie Howell says:

    The Blue Angel Effect, pre-coordinated 250 degree historic uses never occurred over Seahurst, Hurstwood, Gregory Heights, Lake Burien, and Three Tree Point. The Historical Blue Angel effect was over Shorewood and possibly West Seattle. So why does the FAA include them in the present flight paths over neighborhoods that were not part of the 250 degree historic uses?

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