As the weather gets nicer in the Pacific Northwest, Pierce County experiences an increase in airport noise complaints. While we strive to be a good neighbor to our surrounding communities, the County has no control of how or where an aircraft flies once it is airborne from either of the two County airports: Tacoma Narrows Airport near Gig Harbor and Thun Field near South Hill.
Since 1958, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has regulated the use of navigable airspace within the United States.
Tacoma Narrows Airport is a relatively busy general aviation airport, and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The average air traffic at Tacoma Narrows is approximately a fifth of the annual traffic at SeaTac International Airport.
In 2022, Tacoma Narrows Airport recorded 94,530 aircraft operations, which consist of takeoffs or landings. This number is actually higher because it only reflects takeoffs or landings when the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) is staffed (daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Similarly, Thun Field sees more than 106,300 aircraft operations annually, according to its Master Plan. However, that actual figure is likely much higher since there is no ATCT at Thun Field that collects this data.
The FAA not only controls the airspace surrounding the County airports, but they also regulate airborne aircraft operations and disallow the County from imposing restrictions on airplanes that are in the air. This includes airport hours of operation, public and commercial aeronautical activities and more.
Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990
In 1990, Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA). The ANCA established six conditions that the local authority must meet to be granted an airport noise or access restriction such as a curfew. No airport has been able to meet all six of these conditions since the passage of ANCA. Some airports around the country currently have curfews, but those curfews were in place prior to 1990 and were grandfathered by the FAA.
Flight Training Schools
Pierce County is required by the federal government to make the airport available for public and commercial aeronautical activities, including flight training schools.
The flight schools at Tacoma Narrows Airport have a FAA requirement for nighttime flight instruction. Night flying, by FAA regulation, means flying typically one hour after sunset until one hour prior to sunrise.