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Renton wants more air traffic, promises quieter planes

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Islanders who live on the South end are worried that plans to increase air traffic to and from Renton Airport will mean more noise. Renton airport planners say that increasing jet traffic will actually make it quieter, but they want Island officials to help them deflect flights directly over the Island.

In an open house at Renton High School last week, airport planners tried to explain why a busier future at the airport may still be quieter. Most of the aircraft expected to use the expanded facility are less noisy than conventional aircraft currently using the airport, airport officials said.

Expansion plans include the construction of a corporate jet center, U.S. Customs and border protection offices, more hanger and tie-down space and changes to airplane taxiways.

Renton airport officials hope that over the next several years, the daily use of their municipal airport, now called the Clayton Scott Field, will go from the 232 planes today to 320 by 2024. Officials predict the number of multi-engine and corporate jets based at Renton will increase by 45, with about 20 corporate jet flights per day. About two corporate jet flights currently leave the airport each day.

About 10 Islanders attended the meeting, with another 30 people from Renton, mostly residents of the Kennydale and Renton East Hill neighborhoods. City Councilmember El Jahncke and interim deputy city manager Linda Herzog attended on behalf of the city.

Jahncke said he wanted to find out what was going on. Like many other Islanders, he said he was unaware that Renton was planning to increase the use of the airport and wanted to find out what it will mean for residents here.

Paul Tiscornia, an Island resident from the South end, said he feels that a new corporate jet center and an increase in flights will simply bring more airplane noise.

“As flight gets more difficult, corporate jets are becoming a more attractive idea,” Tiscornia said at the open house. “It’s easier to rent them than go through all the security at SeaTac.”

“We love the Blue Angels once a year, but we don’t want jet traffic year round,” he continued. “We’re talking to council members and the airport operators, but it’s not very helpful. The end approach is, they’re going to fly right over my house.”

Tiscornia and others at the meeting expressed fear that the increase in jet traffic will be a never-ending noise problem, a permanent situation similar to the two-week jet jump in jet traffic last August, which resulted from a runway shutdown at Boeing Field that shifted traffic to the Renton Airport. During those two weeks of increased jet traffic, Island residents from the South end and in Renton complained that noisy jets flew right over their homes every two hours around the clock.

“It was awful, those two weeks,” Tiscornia said. “There were at least two planes an hour, day and night. There are no time restrictions, so the jets just kept coming and the strobe lights off the wings light up my house when they fly that close.”

But Renton officials are optimistic that the noisy jets are a thing of the past. They hope that the expansion and new corporate jet center will attract newer, quieter jets to the airport.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as they think its going to be,” said Mike Rice, a leaseholder at the airport who manages at Aerodyne Aviation, a company that rents planes and tie-towns among other services. “My business ... is trying to attract the newer, quieter planes, because that’s where the money is.”

But perhaps more important than the amount of traffic is where pilots direct their planes. Instructions to pilots who use the airport state: “Noise abatement procedures at Renton Airport are voluntary measures by pilots to ‘fly friendly’ and be good neighbors to the citizens who live under aircraft flight paths. Pilots should deviate from these procedures only when necessary to comply with any Air Traffic Control requests or in the interests of safety, flight instructions. ”

Voluntary noise abatement procedures are targeted to designated areas that do not include Mercer Island.

The instructions say that pilots “should fly the centerline down the East Channel ... unless instructed otherwise by the tower.” Under FAA guidelines, air traffic controllers may instruct a pilot to fly over the Island in adverse weather or if a pilot determines it is unsafe to approach the runaway using the East Channel.

Bill Davis, a resident of Renton East Hill, also said the two-week increase last August was terrible. He suggested working toward a compromise with the airport to keep that from happening again. If the airport expands, he said, then he wants the hours of operation to be limited so he isn’t disturbed by jet noise in the middle of the night.

“It’s great that Renton wants to do this, but there have to be some caveats,” Davis said.

According to Mercer Island city officials who met with Renton and Mercer Island officials to discuss the expansion plans, airport planners may be listening to such a proposal.

At the Mercer Island City Council meeting on Nov. 20, Mayor Bryan Cairns said that Renton wants to work with Islanders.

“Renton is saying it wants to work with Mercer Island on this one,” Cairns said. “It wants us to influence the FAA to redirect planes over the water instead having them fly over the Island. And while this is something that cannot be changed overnight, it is something we can work toward together.”

Deputy Mayor Jim Pearman also met with Renton officials and reported that Mercer Island may get a voice in the planning process.

“There is a chance that we may have some councilmember or citizen on the committee to review Renton Airport,” Pearman said.

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