AIRPORT MASTER PLAN UPDATE

Airport manager addresses issues about expanding operations, noise pollution

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Olympia Regional Airport Senior Manager Warren Hendrickson answered questions raised by the public during a public meeting yesterday.

The Port of Olympia, which operates the airport, is completing its Airport Master Plan Update in the coming weeks, an obligation mandated every 10 years by the Federal Aviation Administration so that it qualifies for federal funding.

 Around 60 residents held a protest on January 9 to oppose what they believed were changes that would allow up to 630 takeoffs and landings each day. Discussions last night continued about the Update.

Port Operations Director Rudy Rudolph rejected the protestors’ claim, saying they were misinformed.

Hendrickson explained that any single-runway airport with instrument-capable navigation, like Olympia Regional Airport, has a technical capacity to handle 630 to 670 operations a day. As for its actual operations, the Port reports that the airport actually had a daily average of 209 operations as of November 2022.

Accommodating the maximum capacity of the airport, Hendrickson said, would require a significant increase in staffing and for the control tower to be in operation 24 hours each day.

"630” figure questioned

Hendrickson had also said that he did not know where the protestors might have gotten the 630 figure.

Resident Sharron Coontz said she was irked by his statement, saying that they had a previous conversation about the issue.

“I asked you about that in that phone call a while back,” Coontz said. “I said, ‘is [the 630 figure] part of the update?’ You said 'Yes, it was.’ That's what triggered that with us.”

Apology from the Port's manager

Coontz said she was referring to the 2013 Master Plan Update when she asked her question. Hendrickson apologized to Coontz, explaining that he thought they were talking about the ongoing Master Plan Update in their phone call. He acknowledged that the 630 figure was mentioned in the 2013 update but explained that the number was the capacity of the airport, which stays unchanged in the currently planned update.

Hendrickson added that it would take more than a century before the airport starts accepting around half of the number.

“Looking at the forecast, we’re 209 today [and] we’ll be at 232 in 2040,” Hendrickson said. “If that same rate of growth continues, we will not reach 378 flights a day when the planning exercise begins for another 108 years.”

Advice on noise complaints

Hendrickson said that they have updated the Port’s website to provide information on how to report noise complaints in response to comments about pollution during last week’s protest.

For non-military aircraft, Hendrickson said that residents may send a report to the Seattle Flight Standards District Office under the FAA. All the details needed for the report are described on the office’s website. For military aircraft, reports should be sent to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Hendrickson advised that they could use the FlightAware website to identify the aircraft flying over a given area.

The airport’s website encourages complainants to keep the Port in the loop for reports sent to the two agencies, even though Hendrickson noted that noise complaints were not the purview of the airport nor of the Port of Olympia.

We have no authority nor control the airspace, but we can sort of make note of it,” Hendrickson said.

What I personally do if I can identify the aircraft and [ensure] that it is, in fact, a tenant on the airport, I will be making a phone call,” he continued. “We'll let them know that we have received a noise complaint with regard to the operation. That's the least I can do.      

Comments

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  • Coug66

    The FlightAware website appears to be useful only if you have origin/destination or flight number information. Hardly useful if you are being buzzed by low flying private, corporate or military aircraft.

    Friday, January 20 Report this

  • FordPrefect

    Coug66,

    You sound like a calm and reasonable person so I’ll help you. There is a map on the very front page of the FlightAware website. Super easy, just zoom in to Olympia, tap on an aircraft, record all those “incriminating” details and complain the agencies listed in the article.

    Before you do, consider that none of these pilots know who you are and that deliberately “buzzing” you would take some considerable coordination. Olympia Regional is a public use airport which has been there for nearly 100 years. So assuming you’re not a centenarian and you live close enough to the airport to hear aircraft, you had a fair degree of choice in the matter. As towered airports go, Olympia is relatively quiet.

    If you are genuinely interested in noise abatement and the flow of air traffic in the area, I might be able to help answer some of your questions. Whether that’s here or over coffee somewhere, I’m happy to help.

    Cheers!

    Friday, January 20 Report this

  • JanWitt

    Regarding the response of FordPerfect to Coug66 implying that it is someone’s own fault if they are disturbed by noise and other potential impacts of increased Olympia Airport operations: The current airport is not at all the same as the airport that, as FordPerfect pointed out, existed 100 years ago. Airport boundaries and zones have expanded significantly over the years, enabled by multiple forced property buyouts. Airport projects have been designed to accommodate more demanding aircraft, including faster jets. Busy flight paths have been appearing over vast areas that previously experienced little aircraft noise. Aircraft using the Olympia airport – including helicopters and aircraft using leaded fuel - have been flying, often in circles and at low altitudes, over residential neighborhoods and parks many miles away from the airport. That is why the majority commenting on this issue during public meetings have been expressing concerns about plans to accommodate growth in flights.

    FordPerfect, regarding the information-sharing offer you extended to Coug66, I’d be glad to share information with you about the many significant adverse impacts of aircraft operations (noise, air pollution, etc.) on public health – as well as impacts of unfettered growth of aviation on climate change – here or over coffee somewhere.

    Friday, January 20 Report this

  • UrsulaEuler

    Thank you to those who made arrangements for the opportunity to get answers from the Port of Olympia Regional Airport. I have attended two open houses last year (2022) at which I requested that Public Health become an evaluation criteria for master plan options and making selections. I have also asked that the airport begin to be a good neighbor, and install measuring devices for those pollutants that, based on scientific research, are harmful to life over time. Lead is one of several. The answer to all of those requests was No. It does not bode well for a Regional Airport as being a good neighbor. It would bring objective data to the table.

    The problem with introducing commercial service into the present general aviation service airport is: once it is allowed, the airlines can arrive often and at all times of the day, and not bump up against FAA regulations. And an airport wants to have as many flights as possible. Best to keep commercial service away from Olympia Regional Airport, until they prove themselves to be good neighbors, and until the airline industry becomes more regulated again, so that the surrounding communities actually have some say.

    Friday, January 20 Report this

  • FordPrefect

    JanWitt,

    I accept your proposal and am open to suggestions for coffee. The internet is a terrible place for productive, respectful discourse. Humans do a poor job of finding common ground if they aren’t engaging with one another in-person. We are all wired for tribalism.

    You’re right! The airport today is a far cry from the dirt patch of the 1920’s. I also agree that air travel has continued to grow since the invention of powered flight. Aircraft will always make noise and more is being done to improve this than at any other point in history. Materials and aerodynamics have improved engines, rotors and propellers to reduce their signature. But aircraft are also expensive and, if cared for, last a very long time. Legacy technology will take many decades to fade out of the system. Manufacturer and NBAA noise abatement procedures are also playing a significant role in taking the edge off the racket wherever possible. Is it perfect? Of course not… and that’s where my “buyer/renter beware” comment to Coug66 comes from. The latest expansion of the airport was in the 1990’s for the runway overruns. These are an important safety feature for mitigating the risk to the public in the event of a landing mishap, but that didn’t fundamentally change the layout of the facility. So for the past 30 years or more, Olympia Regional has looked the same. My challenge to Coug66 is to bring something more productive to the table than “planes are loud and I don’t like them”. There are conveniences associated with living in a town with an airport, there are also consequences. Everything in life is a compromise.

    And to your point, tetraethyl lead is indeed nasty stuff but there is nuance here that deserves plenty more discussion. Producing unleaded, high octane fuel which is safe for non-turbine aircraft is a major focus of the industry. The chemistry is difficult and a viable answer is more elusive than banning small aircraft from flying altogether. Much research is currently being done and there are some very promising unleaded fuels on the near horizon.

    The conditional olive-branch you mentioned to be a “good neighbor” is a bit of a trap. Testing for lead would show us what we already know; there is some lead in the environment and those levels are probably higher near an airport. The results of that study, paid for by local taxpayers, would do nothing to abate the operations at a federally funded airport. I’m guessing this is why the Port of Olympia declined to do the study.

    You and I are actually motivated by the same thing, I want us all to be better stewards of the planet.

    However, I don’t feel that suppressing operations at our airport is an efficient use of our resources. As our community grows, so too will the number of operations at the airport. This is vastly preferable to the alternative of a community in decline. I believe we can have a productive conversation about how to clean up our community in a meaningful way. The least glamorous actions can sometimes make the biggest difference.

    I’m serious about the coffee. Always good to hear a different point of view!

    Friday, January 20 Report this

  • FordPrefect

    I inadvertently mixed up the comments from JanWitt and UrsulaEuler a bit. My mistake.

    Friday, January 20 Report this

  • FirstOtter

    Ford Prefect, I must disagree with your statement that pilots must do 'considerable coordination' in order to buzz one's home.

    I live southwest of the Olympia airport and private aircraft...single engine and twin engine aircraft that are NOT jets...buzz my home all the time. They come in and circle for half an hour or more, and seldom very high. I have Flight Aware, now, and the altitudes these pilots fly at is always much lower than the FAA's regulation 1000 feet vertical and no closer horizontally han 500 ft to a building or a person on the ground. These numbers are ignored so frequently that I had to tell a person at the Olympia Airport the regulation was in the FAA's website.

    We've taken pictures of these planes and forwarded them to the FAA in Seattle. It's not at all uncommon to be able to see the people in the aircraft. They fly low enough that not only can we capture their registration number with a camera, but with a small powered binocular, even, sometimes, when my grandson is here, with the naked eye.

    And, anecdotally...years ago, I got the number of a plane owned by Glacier Aviation. I called the owner of the plane to ask him to NOT circle my house. He told me, "I didn't spend a .... load of money for my plane just to have some crackpot tell me where I can fly it."

    So much for courtesy and civility from the general aviation side. Yes, Planes are loud and I don't like them circling my house every day. The few wealthy folks who use the Olympia airport disregard the rights of the many who can't afford an expensive airplane. I'd love to go park in their driveway with my noisy tractor. I don't because it would disturb his neighbors.

    So please understand that when the port commissioners dismissed protestors claim of 630 flights a day..even after one person read it from the Port's own literature-that the honesty of the Port is questionable. It is obvious what the Port's agenda is. It's money at the expense of everything else. I see this entire reconfiguration as a handful of people making a decision to destroy the quality of life for thousands of Thurston county taxpayers, for the benefit of corporations (Amazon, Costco, for example) who like the idea of an airport conveniently located for their cargo jets to use.

    Saturday, January 21 Report this

  • FordPrefect

    FirstOtter,

    I won’t dispute that aircraft fly low near your property. The point is that you and the pilot would have to coordinate with one another to deliberately target your property for overflight.

    For someone to circle below 500 or 1000 feet for 30+ minutes on a frequent basis makes little sense, unless you live close enough to the airport to place you inside the traffic pattern. If that’s true, then it’s plausible that these aircraft are maneuvering to land. The perceived circling could be explained by those pilots conducting multiple circuits focused on the airport, not your house.

    Here’s an excerpt from those FAA regulations (14 CFR §91.119):

    Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

    (a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

    (b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

    (c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

    There is some gray area hidden in there. The word “congested” is never defined in the regulations. It’s left to the pilot’s judgement; or perhaps the court’s if some incident is serious enough to warrant legal action. In either case, those restrictions do not apply to aircraft that are taking off or landing. So are all these pilots disregarding the rules? That’s possible, but unlikely.

    Even a private pilot license takes a fair degree of effort, time and money to acquire. The threat of having it revoked or suspended is enough to keep the vast majority of pilots in compliance. For many of us, that license is our livelihood. Are there a few morons out there? Of course. That’s also true for any large group of people. The great thing about flying is that it’s self-critiquing if you’re stupid. If you don’t follow the rules, the FAA will take great joy and haste in removing you from the pool of otherwise prudent pilots.

    Regarding your story of the rude pilot, it’s unfortunate that they wasted an opportunity to share information, choosing instead sour your opinion of general aviation. Let them not represent the greater community of decent people who use the airport. Generalizations are rarely helpful in finding common ground or actually solving problems. That pesky tribalism again, we are all wired for it and the internet perpetuates it.

    It’s way better to look somebody in the eye and have a productive conversation. Tough to despise somebody who is willing to sit down with you and talk it out. You and I probably can’t stop planes from flying over your house. Perhaps we can come to some useful conclusions as to why it’s happening.

    Cheers from a pilot who would really like to be wealthy some day.

    Saturday, January 21 Report this

  • FirstOtter

    Ford Prefect, I will agree that not all private pilots are jerks. I went in to talk to Jorgensen's when they were in business and they were very accomodating, told me that they would ask their pilots to not circle my house. The Jepsen aeronautical maps show an R with a circle around it and I'm believing that means it's okay to circle. But my area is built up so much now that it should be changed. What used to be farmland is now subdivisions.

    The folks who took over for Jorgensens, Safety something or other? are also very understanding and have said they wouldn't circle. So you're right, most pilots listen. But Rudy Rudolph has also mentioned int he past that there are pilots who blow him off when he tells them of complaints. (mind you, I"m not the only one who complains...just one of many).

    But..as you note, all it takes is one or three bad apples to pee off the poor schmo on the ground being used as a VORTAC to paint all of you with the same brush.

    Saturday, January 21 Report this