Topics of special interest included ADS-B transponders, now required for all aircraft at Hanscom Field; discrepancies in some reported aircraft altitudes and their actual altitude; a large drop in small aircraft operations during December; confusion over Air Force-owned prop planes used for civilian flights; and the continuing backlog of unanswered air noise complaints to Massport.
ADS-B Transponders Now Mandatory for all Hanscom Field Aircraft
Thomas Hirsch, HFAC member and representative of the Hanscom Pilots Association, announced the FAA requirement that all Hanscom Field aircraft be equipped with ADS-B transponders became mandatory on January 1. Hirsch thinks the East Coast Aero Club flight school is now fully equipped and believes the Hanscom Aero Club flight school is also equipped with the required transponders. HFAC Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln was pleased, stating, “That’s good news. I’m sure there are exceptions, but hopefully, those will become rare.”
Note: ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) transponders continuously broadcast an aircraft’s GPS location and identification information to receivers on other aircraft and on the ground.
Potential Discrepancies in Reported and Actual Aircraft Altitudes
Hirsch advised that aircraft altitude reported by flight tracking apps (such as FlightAware.com and Flightradar24.com) may need to be corrected for local barometric pressure effects. He explained that the calibration formula requires that 100 feet should be added to the flight tracking app reported altitude for every tenth of an inch of mercury that the local barometric pressure reads above the standard base of 29.92. Correspondingly, 100 feet should be subtracted from the flight tracking app reported altitude for every tenth of an inch of mercury that the local barometric pressure reads below the standard base of 29.92.
He added that actual aircraft altimeter readings must sometimes also be adjusted for temperature in extreme weather conditions.
Small Aircraft Operations Fall in December Due to Poor Weather
Massport Administrative Manager for Hanscom Field Amber Goodspeed pointed out there was a large overall decrease, down 31.5%, in small aircraft flight operations in December 2019 as compared to last year, due to poor weather conditions. She explained most of the pilots of those aircraft use visual flight rules [rather than instrument flight rules], and “wind affects the smaller planes considerably.” Hirsch noted extremely cold weather also impacts flight operations for aircraft because it takes longer to get planes warmed up, and that flying very cold aircraft has been observed to be hard on equipment. For those reasons, flights may be canceled when it is too cold. Goodspeed added, “And it’s completely miserable trying to fly in a freezing cold airplane on a freezing cold day.”
Civilian Use of Air Force-Owned Planes
Anthony Gallagher, Massport Community Relations, explained the airport operations database classifies flights as civilian or military, based strictly on the flight mission, not whether the planes are owned by the military. He was responding to confusion that arose at the December HFAC meeting about whether flights of Air Force-owned planes used by the Hanscom Aero Club fall into civilian or military sectors in the Massport operations database.
“Does that mean there are military planes being used for non-military flights?” BJ Dunn, Superintendent of Minuteman National Park inquired. Mark Wimmer, Massport Airport Data Specialist for Hanscom Field, explained the Air Force owns planes that are used by Lincoln Laboratory and by the Civil Air Patrol [as well as the planes used by the Hanscom Aero Club]. Hirsch added the Hanscom Aero Club is operated as a civilian flight school. Asked if the Air Force-owned planes in the Hanscom Aero Club are being used for civilian flight training and for people who just want to fly for fun, Hirsch said he believes it is operated like any other flight school.
“I wouldn’t borrow a government car to go get my driver’s license,” Amy McCoy, Ayer resident observed.
Hirsch explained that fees are charged for the lessons and that the Hanscom Aero Club membership, although originally restricted only to Air Force members and their families, has been expanded to include all current and retired federal employees and their family members. When asked if taxpayers are paying for planes being used for non-military purposes, Hirsch and Chair Eliot both pointed out that is not necessarily true, but acknowledged there is some confusion about the issue. Asked if liability could be increased for the Air Force if a civilian has an accident in one of the Hanscom Aero Club planes, HFAC members conjectured that it might not.
McCoy asked if operations by Air Force-owned Civil Air Patrol planes at Hanscom might fall into a gray area between the civilian and military sectors. Wimmer agreed, but suggested Civil Air Patrol flights would probably be counted as civilian in the Massport flight operations database.
Gallagher was asked at last month’s HFAC meeting to report on the inventory of civilian aircraft based at Hanscom Field. Although he did not have that information this month, Hirsch suggested such information might be obtained from the AirNav.com website and gave a demonstration to HFAC members and the audience on how to use the website. He pointed out, however, that the aircraft inventory information AirNav lists for Hanscom Airport is about two years old and likely was originally provided by Massport to either the FAA or the website.
Massport Backlog of Unanswered Air Noise Complaints Continues for 8th Month
When asked about the status of Massport’s attempt to clear the backlog of unanswered air noise complaints that has accumulated since last May, Gallagher said progress is being made. Wimmer explained December responses have almost been completed, and after those are done, the summer month complaints will be dealt with. Wimmer is using a new format for Massport response letters which streamlines some aspects but also incorporates local weather conditions which help determine runway usage. The addition of that pertinent information means the preparation of the response letters is more time-consuming. But Wimmer said all previous air noise filings back through last summer will eventually be processed, reassuring residents, “We’re not going to write them off.” Gallagher added Logan Airport also has a large backlog of unanswered air noise complaints.
On the positive side, Wimmer said he is revamping the call system to include a searchable database that will preserve all calls.
Note: Residents may call the Hanscom Noise Line at (781) 869-8050 with complaints or concerns about air noise events or incidents of air pollution from jet engine exhaust fumes drifting into neighborhoods.
Monthly Flight Operations
Massport reports total Hanscom Field flight operations for the month of December (8,377) were down 15.3% compared to December of last year (9,886).
December Daytime Air Traffic (7 am to 11 pm)
- Jets up 12.6% [Bedford Citizen calculation = 12.8%] from last year: 2,500 to 2,821
- Aircraft touch and go practice flights down 30.0% from last year: 3,608 to 2,524
- Small plane single flights down 34.0% from last year: 2,118 to 1,397
- Helicopters down 2.9% from last year: 800 to 777
- Turboprops down 5.8% from last year: 601 to 566
- Twin-engine piston aircraft flights up 19.0% from last year: 226 to 269
- Military operations down 30.3% from last year: 33 to 23
Note: military flights routinely average less than 1% of the annual total flight operations at Hanscom Field.
December Nighttime Air Traffic (11 pm to 7 am)
- General night flight operations were up 16.5% from last year: 158 to 184
- 49 of those flights were exempt from night fees
Note: Night fee exemptions are granted to medflight operations, FAA flights, civil air patrol, and military aircraft, as well as aircraft delayed by weather, mechanical or air traffic control issues. The fees are imposed by Massport to discourage discretionary night flights likely to cause sleep disturbance for residents of surrounding communities. Night flight fees collected at Hanscom Field for FY2018 totaled $813,743 and were deposited in Massport’s General Fund.
Monthly Air Noise Report
Goodspeed reviewed the monthly noise report, which shows three noise monitors recorded slight increases for December day/night noise level weighted average in decibels (DNL in dB) compared to last year.
- Bedford, Airfield Site 32 at the east end of Runway 11/29: 61.0 dB up to 62.4 dB
- Lexington, Preston Road Site 35: 56.9 dB up to 58.6 dB
- Lincoln, Brooks Road Site 33: 54.4 dB up to 54.6 dB
The three other noise monitors recorded slight decreases in noise for December compared to last year.
- Bedford, DeAngelo Drive Site 34: 59.1 dB down to 58.7 dB
- Concord, Airfield Site 31 on west end of Runway 11/29: 63.6 dB down to 62.2 dB
- Concord, Wastewater Plant Site 36: 61.7 dB down to 59.8 dB
“What that tells us is the majority of our traffic, because of the weather patterns, was going over Lexington in the month of December,” Goodspeed observed about the noise monitor data.
A 70.1 DNL dB day occurred at Bedford’s Site 32 (east end of Runway 11/29) on December 19th due to multiple night flights between midnight and 3am.
Note: Levels above 65 DNL dB are considered significant because persistent levels above 65 DNL dB are considered by the FAA to be incompatible with noise-sensitive land use such as “residential, educational, health, and religious structures and sites, and parks, recreational areas, area with wilderness characteristics, wildlife refuges, and cultural and historical sites,” according to FAA 1050.1F Desk Reference, Paragraph 11-5.b(8).
Noise disturbance reports were up from 62 in December of 2018 to 157 in December of 2019. Chair Eliot noted that noise complaints fell significantly from November 2019 to December 2019 (39.4%,from 259 to 157), coinciding with the large decrease in small plane flight operations from November to December.
Note: The Massport Noise Report database shows touch and go practice flights fell 25.2% (3,376 down to 2,524), and single flights for small planes fell 41.7% (2398 down to 1397) from November to December in 2019.
No Massport Updates for Several Hanscom Field Projects Impacting Bedford
Gallagher announced Massport has no updates this month for any of its projects at Hanscom Field. Among the projects are several which will impact Bedford: the Massport flagging of 189 mature forest trees in Bedford’s Jordan Conservation Area last autumn for trimming, topping and girdling, or removal this winter; planned development of a large corporate hangar complex in the North Airfield of Bedford across from The Edge Sports Center; and construction of a T-Hangar complex off Hartwell Road and adjacent to Instrumentation Laboratory to house 38 aircraft which are presently hangered on the Concord Pine Hill side of the airfield.
To receive notice of future HFAC meetings and agendas, please register at the new HFAC website hosted by the Town of Lincoln: https://www.lincolntown.org/AgendaCenter/Hanscom-Field-Airport-Commission-58. Meeting minutes are being added to the website to increase accessibility for the public. However, most prior HFAC meeting minutes and documents are still presently archived in binders at the Civil Air Terminal and Logan Airport and require special access permission from Massport authorities.
Next HFAC Meeting February 18, 2020
HFAC will meet again on Tuesday, February 18, at 7 pm in Room 308 of the Civil Air Terminal, 200 Hanscom Drive, Bedford. Free parking is available at the Terminal lot. The meeting agenda includes a citizen comment period for the public to ask questions or present matters of concern to the Commission. Residents of all communities impacted by Massport tenants’ operations at Hanscom Field are welcome to attend.