Hanscom Field Advisory Commission ~ Short Takes ~ April, 2019

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Compiled by The Bedford Citizen

The Hanscom Field Advisory Commission (HFAC) met April 16th to discuss the monthly air traffic and air noise reports and review current Massport development projects.  Lincoln representative Chris Eliot assumed chairmanship from Bedford Selectman Michael Rosenberg, who has served as chair for the past four years.  Commission members also heard a plea for help voiced by State Rep Sheila Harrington (R-1st Middlesex) and her constituents regarding Hanscom area flight school activities in their district.

HFAC will next meet on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at 7 pm in Room 308 of the Civil Air Terminal, 200 Hanscom Drive, Bedford, MA.  Residents of Hanscom area towns and Hanscom-impacted towns are all invited to attend.  Time is set aside at each meeting for citizen comments, questions, and concerns to be addressed to the Commission members and Massport representatives.  Parking is free.

Visit from State Rep Sheila Harrington

Representative Sheila Harrington and two of her Ayer constituents informed the Commission of problems their district has experienced with two flight schools leasing space from Massport at Hanscom Field:  East Coast Aero Club and Executive Flyers Aviation (Executive Flyers closed last year but the operator has opened a new flight school at Hanscom Field called Mike Goulian Aviation in space rented from Massport).

Harrington believes residents in her district have been subjected to deliberate harassment in the form of repeated and targeted low-level flyovers by members of those flight schools for many years.  She outlined evidence for the harassment; recounted her and her constituents’ efforts to obtain help from the FAA, MassDOT, and Massport; and requested that HFAC and Amber Goodspeed, Massport’s Airport Administration Manager for Hanscom Field, assist in finding a solution to the problem.   Ayer resident David McCoy stated, “We feel targeted and harassed by Massport tenants.”

Some Hanscom Aircraft Unidentifiable by Massport System at Hanscom Field

When asked what could make an aircraft unidentifiable to Massport, even when the plane’s N-number (also known as tail number) is provided in a noise filing, Goodspeed explained that Massport’s Hanscom aircraft identification confirmation system relies chiefly on radar, rather than Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast or ADS-B transponders.

Commission member Thomas Hirsch added that it is sometimes difficult for radar systems to detect aircraft flying below 700 feet altitude.  Those low-flying planes may be unidentifiable by Massport and FAA radar, even though residents can see and hear them clearly and the planes are broadcasting their identity and position from their ADS-B transponders.  Goodspeed said noise reports filed for planes that don’t show up on Massport’s own radar-based identification system at Hanscom Field are therefore excluded from the air noise report database, although Massport still sends a response letter to the filer, if requested, acknowledging receipt of the complaint.  She also admitted that Massport may not be aware of some aircraft arrivals and departures at Hanscom if pilots are using visual flight rules (VFR) and their aircraft are missed by radar.

When asked in particular about Massport tenant flight schools at Bedford, Goodspeed said, “I don’t believe all of our flight schools are completely equipped with ADS-B.”

McCoy recounted the frustration he experiences when low-flying flight school aircraft he has positively identified by N-number as operating out of Hanscom Field are repeatedly classified by Massport as ‘Unknown’.  “We are able to identify the aircraft, and when we make noise complaints to Hanscom, to Massport, we receive letters saying that Massport cannot identify the aircraft,” McCoy said. “We had ten aircraft from flight-training from Bedford one day, and we were able to identify each of those ten aircraft, but Massport could not identify one of those Bedford-based aircraft.”

Airnoise Button Effect

Air noise report filings during March 2019 totaled 147, compared to 35 from the same month last year.  Massport registered reports from thirteen residents in the towns of Ayer, Bedford, Chelmsford, Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln.  Goodspeed said the March increase in air noise filings is associated with users of the Airnoise button, a subscription service which became operational for Hanscom Field a few months ago.  To learn more, click https://airnoise.io/.

When Eliot asked if the button was a new way to register complaints, Goodspeed replied that Massport began receiving Airnoise button noise reports from Logan area communities about a year ago.  A Bedford Airnoise button owner explained to Commission members that the button is a small key fob WiFi appliance that streamlines the process of filing air noise reports into one touch:  first identifying overhead aircraft fitted with ADS-B transponders using the Flight Aware tracking service, then automatically filing a noise report with Massport which includes the identification, position, and altitude of the plane.  The Airnoise button cannot ID aircraft that don’t have ADS-B transponders installed, or that have transponders turned off by the pilots.  However, the FAA requires that all aircraft must be fitted with ADS-B transponders by January 1, 2020:  https://www.faa.gov/nextgen/programs/adsb/faq/.

Goodspeed said the button is not as accurate as the Massport system, because it has no altitude ceiling limit, and can confuse local aircraft with higher altitude air traffic from other airports.  The button owner disagreed, saying Airnoise buttons for Hanscom Airport have been particularly calibrated by the inventor to have a ceiling of 2000 feet and a radius of 1 mile around the WiFi address linked to the button.  A surprised Goodspeed insisted some planes at 7000-20,000 ft altitude had been identified by Airnoise buttons, but admitted that could have been for reasons she didn’t know.

Rosenberg wondered if a new metric might be needed going forward, asking, “Are we really talking about apples and oranges in looking at this number [of air noise reports] compared to prior numbers because of the relative ease in reporting now?  All of a sudden we go to a place we’ve never been before.”

In answer to a question about what happens to the air noise filings, Goodspeed explained that complaints are added to the Massport air noise database unless Massport classifies the aircraft as unidentifiable or unknown by its own system, and aircraft operators are then informed of the noise report.  She said Massport keeps addresses of noise report filers private, so pilots and flight schools are expected to calculate their own aircraft positions linked to each noise filing based on date and time.

Noise Monitor News

Three Massport air noise monitors (Concord wastewater site, Lincoln, and Lexington) showed decreases of about 1 to 2 decibels in day/night noise levels (DNL) for March compared to the same period last year.

Monitors on the airfield near Concord and in Bedford on DeAngelo Drive showed slight increases in noise levels of less than half a decibel.  However, the airfield monitor nearest the South Road neighborhood again recorded high noise levels for the third consecutive month.

Goodspeed said Massport considers the readings for January to be anomalously high, so they were excluded from that month’s noise report.  The suspect monitor was inspected, and a microphone was replaced in February, but high noise levels averaging 68.5 decibels were still recorded for that month.  The reading for March was also high, at 67.1 DNL decibels.

Goodspeed does not believe mice or birds, which have sometimes caused high noise readings in the past, are a factor in this case.  She speculated that the continuing high noise level recordings may be due to the combination of another glitch in the monitor and actual aircraft noise.

The FAA considers airport noise levels above 65 decibels DNL to be incompatible with residential and other sensitive areas, such as land used for educational, health, and religious purposes; as well as parks, recreational areas, wildlife refuges, and sites of cultural or historical significance:  2015 FAA Desk Reference 1050.1F, Chapter 11, Noise and Noise Compatible Land Use:   https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/apl/environ_policy_guidance/policy/faa_nepa_order/desk_ref/ .

As always, residents who are curious or concerned about air noise can call Massport’s Noise Report Line at 781-869-8050.  Reports may also be filed on Massport’s website, using a recently streamlined 6-step process:  http://www.massport.com/hanscom-field/about-hanscom/airport-activity-monitor/hanscom-noise-complaints/.

Monthly Air Traffic

March daytime flight operations for all aircraft types increased overall by about 5% compared to last year (small single engine planes up 3.8%, turboprop up 6.6%, jets up 7.6%, and helicopters up 0.4%, for a total of 10,003 March flight operations).

Nighttime flights decreased by 10.7%, from 206 operations last year to 184 this March.  All flights between 11 pm and 7 am, when the FAA Air Traffic Control Tower at Hanscom is unmanned, are counted as night flights.

Monthly Airfield/Airport Development Projects Report

The new Airfield Rescue and Firefighting/Customs and Border Protection Facility’s scheduled May 21 opening date has been pushed into June 2019.   Natural gas line installation issues delayed completion of construction.

Massport has begun to advertise for a firm to design a 55,000 square foot T-hangar facility on the North Airfield in Bedford.  Access to the new facility would be from Hartwell Road opposite The Edge Sports Center.  Massport plans for the new T-hangars to house 38 small aircraft currently hangared on the Concord Pine Hill side of the airfield.

Amber Goodspeed, Administrative Manager of the airport, said the long-awaited Massport 2017 Environmental Status and Planning Report for Hanscom Field will likely be completed in May, followed by a public meeting tentatively scheduled for May 21.  A 45-day public comment period for interested and concerned town officials and citizens will commence the day after that meeting.

Of special interest to Bedford officials and residents, the report will include environmental reviews of Massport’s proposed development projects for the North Airfield, including a new 110,000 square foot corporate hangar facility on land adjacent to the recently auctioned old Navy Hangar land parcel, and the T-hangar project described above.

After public comments are received and considered, the report will be submitted for certification to Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton.