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By Kevin Stolz
Former Councilmember 

Noise curfew needed at Paine Field | Guest View

Series: Coronavirus | Story 51

Last updated 4/22/2020 at 12:39pm

This month we'll be discussing some health and safety issues as it relates to Boeing and passenger air service at Paine Field.

Government officials in our state have done a good job with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, other health and safety issues have been routinely neglected and COVID-19 will be a valid excuse used by government officials and Boeing to continue ignoring what they could have and should have done previously.

Boeing has been flying the noisy Dreamlifter during nighttime hours for several years now. It started with a commitment to only fly at night due to curfews in other countries but then became part of their normal operations after the second 787 line opened in Charlston, South Carolina. The gradual and eventual disregard for the health impacts caused by Dreamlifter flights at night is well known in other countries ... with noise curfews.

Commercial passenger air service at Paine Field began in March of 2019. Despite original assurances that the flights would occur between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. (coincidentally the same hours that the FAA control tower operates) within a few months the passenger flights were operating at full capacity (24 scheduled flights a day) beginning at 5:20 a.m. and flights routinely arriving after midnight.

As a pilot and aeronautical engineer, I'm not a fan of commercial passenger flights in and out of Paine Field without a control tower in operation. I'm not going to be a passenger during those hours and I don't want my family members to be either. Of course, the FAA and other regulatory entities assure us it's safe. The important thing to recognize about safety is that everything is safe ... until it's not.

Enter the impacts of COVID-19. The Dreamlifter isn't (wasn't) flying and scheduled passenger flights are down to five a day; all when the control tower is in operation. This should be an opportunity for Boeing and government officials to get things right. For the reasons stated above and many others, it won't be and in many ways, we're on our own.

So, below is a narrative for those so inclined, to better understand the operations at Paine Field and how you can use readily available technology to adapt by understanding what to expect.

As I sit at my desk writing this I'm looking out my window and see what appears to be the same 747 coming in from the North for a landing multiple times. Going to my ADS-B receiver site (, I click on the airplane and then click on the "Visit Flight Page" button. I'm taken to the FlightAware site showing the details about the aircraft and its flight path. I can even run an animation of the three flight patterns (touch and go's) including speed, heading and altitude. Sometime after the third and final landing, I hear something big taking off in the opposite direction (heading north). I think to myself, "That's interesting. I guess the FAA controllers switched the runway direction for takeoff and landings." It was the same 747 but this time taking off to the north and flying a LH pattern (to the west of the runway over the water).

Previously, it took off heading south flying a RH pattern (also to the west of the runway over the water). This time I went to the site, typed in PAE (for Paine Field), and then clicked on the Weather tab. Sure enough, the wind direction is variable at three knots. In other words it's a toss up whether takeoffs and landings will be heading north or south. I then call the PAE ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) recording at 425-355-9797 and confirm that indeed "Landing and Departing Runway 34L and 34R" (to the north) so the FAA controllers did officially change the runway direction as opposed to it just being at the request of the pilots.

When the control tower is closed, all the aircraft operators cooperate by broadcasting their intentions on 132.95 MHz (Yes, you can tune into this frequency on a radio that supports the aircraft bands and listen for yourself or download an app like 'LiveATC'). I've witnessed several scenarios of less than ideal situations involving passenger aircraft and the Dreamlifter taking off and landing in opposing directions within minutes of each other when the control tower is closed.

For example, I've seen a passenger flight taking off heading north and the Dreamlifter arriving from the north three minutes later early in the morning before the tower has opened. Several months ago (November 12, 2019 around 2 a.m. to be more precise) I tracked a situation where a passenger flight that was late from LAX landed heading south while a Dreamlifter was waiting to depart in the opposite direction (heading north).

The takeaway is this: The COVID-19 pandemic will create a new normal and most of us are probably not going to like it. Everything works fine and is safe until it isn't. County, state and local leaders are putting our health and safety at risk by not adopting a cooperative voluntary noise curfew at Paine Field; at a minimum, commercial passenger flights should not occur unless the FAA control tower is in operation.

Drop me a note at [email protected] if you have information to share or ideas for future columns.


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