The Seattle Times has news that Sea-Tac Airport and the FAA will begin testing new satellite-guided landing patterns tonight that will significantly shorten the approach distances to the airport and reduce noise. If all goes well, the new system will become routine for most flights next year – which would mean quieter skies over UW, Montlake, Capitol Hill and the Central District. Aviation reporter Dominic Gates explains:
Flying along invisible but precise pathways, jets in the trial will smoothly descend with engines at idle until near the runway, saving fuel and reducing emissions.
The FAA’s co-lead on the project, Doug Marek, compares it to sliding down a banister instead of taking the stairs. Planes today are guided in by air traffic controllers in a step-by-step descent that takes more time, and more fuel.
With the current system, a controller instructs a pilot to descend in several steps, like going down a giant staircase — say from 12,000 feet to 10,000, then to 6,000. Each time the plane reaches its assigned altitude, the engines power up to hold at that height until the next descent instruction.
With the new system, the step-down disappears.
At a distance of about 40 miles from Sea-Tac, a controller tells the pilot what arrival route he should take. Once the pilot enters that into the flight computer, the autopilot will do the rest, following a continuous and smooth trajectory to the runway.
Planes will save either 14 or 26 miles of flying, depending on their approach route, said Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy.
Montlake residents are accustomed to the jet noise form the northwest approach to Sea-Tac that brings planes over Kirkland, Union Bay and our neighborhood. With the coming expansion of the 520 freeway and possible subterranean rumblings from light rail, this bit of noise reduction will be well received.