First and foremost, there is no effort by FHA or any other organization to remove seaplanes from Lake Union. But there is an interest that they be good neighbors, and the FHA would like to work with all stakeholders to ensure the safety of all users of the lake.
Kenmore Air’s Position: As stated in Kenmore Air’s August 2019 letter to the City (link below), “during summer months after 2:00 PM on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays there are too many sailboats, rowers, paddleboarders and pleasure boats on the lake for seaplanes to operate safely”. In this same letter, Kenmore states that this unsafe condition prohibited them from using Lake Union during those peak-use periods (forcing them to divert 20 minutes away to Kenmore on Lake Washington). As a result, Kenmore asked the City for either a Harbor Police Patrol unit to clear their runway or the installation of a dedicated, off-limits runway on the lake as depicted below.
Harbour Air’s Position: As summarized in his email of 11/23/2020 (see link below with full text) by Eric Scott, Harbour Air’s Operations VP:
- For life-safety reasons Lake Union should have an off-limits, dedicated runway down the middle of the lake. Although our FAA defines a 400’ X 5,000’ legal minimum runway he thinks “seaplanes could operate safely with 250’ X 3,000’ “.
- He notes that Canada’s FAA (but of another acronym) came in and forced dedicated runways in Victoria and Vancouver as the waterways became crowded. He thinks our FAA will do this on Lake Union especially if there is an accident.
- He states that the Lake Union runway should be patrolled and the cost of patrolling should be borne by all lake users (house boaters as well) because he sees all of us the beneficiaries of increased safety. When it was suggested in a phone call that the real beneficiaries were two privately held companies, he disagreed.
- Based on his knowledge of planes and his experience in Vancouver he sees no immediate relief to the problems of seaplane noise and the toxic fumes from aviation fuel. In the future, electric planes would eliminate the toxic fumes but not the noise which is propeller generated.
The FHA is part of the Seaplane Environmental Coalition (SEC), a group that represents the diverse group of users of the Lake Union basin comprising thousands of Seattleites who enjoy it for its commercial, residential, environmental, natural, wildlife, and recreational resources.
SEC formed in the 1980s to raise awareness of the environmental impact of seaplanes and to give voice to all of those negatively affected by the unchecked sprawl of seaplane traffic on Lake Union. In 1989, SEC successfully negotiated with Kenmore Air to stop flights before 8 am. Flights used to take off and land as early as 6 am waking up many of those who lived on and around Lake Union.
You can read more about the background to the seaplanes issue on the Eastlake Community Council’s website here.