Des Moines, other cities, hire consultant to seek ways to control airport noise

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By Jack Mayne

At Thursday night’s (June 5) Des Moines City Council study session, lawmakers heard from aviation consultants the city has hired to help steer the city through increases in aviation traffic noise and pollution affecting Des Moines and the other Sea-Tac Airport concerned participants, Burien, SeaTac and Normandy Park.

The consultants’ major point was they can help make changes that would most help residents cope with the continuing growth of airport traffic.

Des Moines City Manager Michael Matthias said the study session was attended by Burien City Manager Brian Wilson because of that city’s interest in similar problems of Sea-Tac Airport footprint growth as well as attendant noise and pollution from plane fuel exhaust. Wilson, according to Matthias, met earlier with the four area cities to discuss airport concerns.

Earlier, Matthias told the Council study session that resident Ken Rogers has resigned as a member of the city’s Aviation Advisory Committee (dubbed START) and, at Matthias’s recommendation, appointed well known local aviation activist Steve Edmiston as his replacement.

Risk, noise obstacles
Consultant James Allerdice (pictured above), of the r Terminal Operations at, a specialist company in airport traffic, environmental, and safety risk management along with flight procedure development, airport obstacle analysis, noise mitigation, and program management of success while maintaining fiscal and environmental responsibility, spoke along with along with Jason Schwartz.

Also attending the study session was Emily Tranter, a lawyer from the Washington D.C. national federal relations law firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen.

Matthias told Council that Allerdice and Tranter came to Des Moines to meet with city staff so that all could understand the problems and the potential solutions.

‘Mitigation now’
Matthias said the proximity to Sea-Tac Airport means that the surrounding cities face “disproportional impacts from aircraft operations,” which include noise, health threats, road traffic congestion, disruption to resident’s sleep and threats from fuel emissions, amongst others. These negative impacts are up against the obvious economic benefits of the adjacent airport, he said.

There is also planned growth, from about 45 million passengers now to a potential 40 percent growth over the next five years.

“We think that one critical issue regarding the airport SAMP (Sustainable Airport Master Plan) is that the baseline is not 2018 or 2019, but the baseline is 2012,” Matthias told Council. “We would like to see mitigation for where we are now before anybody starts talking about growth at the airport.”

He told the Council that in response to the Port’s “sustainable” master plan, Des Moines has partnered with the cities of SeaTac, Burien, and Normandy Park “to contract without Aviation Consultants (Allerdice and Tranter) “to participate in the … environmental process.”

‘Minimize impacts’
He said the consultants were also there to suggest strategies to “successfully mitigate and minimize impacts” on area residents.

“Given the fact we are a city of 31,000 people in proximity to the airport, with no jurisdiction over the FAA, no jurisdiction over the Port, no jurisdiction over the airport, no jurisdiction over the airlines, what do we do? How can we go about protecting and representing our own interests relative to the airport and the Port,” Matthias said. The briefing of the Council was in order to get the most mitigation for Des Moines.

Already, the city has been involved in a number of activities to help reduce the problems and protect the citizens, he said. The city convened an aviation advisory committee, supported by a state House of Representatives vote of 98 to 0 and a State Senate support of a committee to “establish a siting committee for a second regional airport.”

Emily Tranter, the Lockridge Grindal lawyer from Washington D.C., said she was impressed at the willingness of the three communities to engage in the issue.

Former FAA controller
Allerdice said his background was as an aircraft controller, for many years with the Federal Aviation Administration in Atlanta before retiring. In Atlanta, he was part of the group who created RNAV, the satellite “area navigation” system which permits the operation of an aircraft on a desired flight path.

Changing the flight path as soon as a plane leaves the runway means that more planes can leave the area, but immediate turns would mean more planes over houses, thus more noise. Making them stay within the yellow triangular lines of the box in the flight path box, does that. Another desirous takeoff plan is to get the aircraft over the water quicker, thus decreasing noise to residents, Allerdice told councilmembers.

“If the aircraft diverge immediately after departure, they can launch the aircraft quicker,” he said, “Right now, minimum separation for aircraft for the departing is three miles, so then must all be three miles apart,” he said.

That means when one aircraft leaves the ground, the next one cannot begin the takeoff oo the next one must wait for a three mile separation. Allerdice said the first aircraft has to cross the end of the runway before the next one can begin its takeoff process.

The only exception is propeller jet aircraft because they can turn away from the runway more quickly and that is why the smaller aircraft can turn out over Burien, said Allerdice.

There are many ways to work with the FAA to try to convince them to moderate some of the flight paths and altitudes to get a somewhat quieter residential area, he added.