The Hanscom Field Advisory Commission (HFAC) met February 18 to discuss airfield matters of concern, hear Massport updates on monthly flight operations, and review the air noise report.
Topics of special note included HFAC’s farewell to Mike Rosenberg, longtime member and former Chair of the Commission; discussion of repetitive prop plane flights over Bedford’s South Road neighborhood; large jets flying at low altitude over Bedford’s Meadowbrook neighborhood; HFAC’s letter to MassDOT Aeronautics Division regarding agency jurisdiction for local flight school activities over the Ayer and Groton; and Massport’s plan to move ahead on its new T-hangar complex to be built off Hartwell Road in Bedford.
HFAC Bids Farewell to Mike Rosenberg
Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln was joined by Amber Goodspeed, Massport Administrative Manager for Hanscom Airport, in thanking and praising Mike Rosenberg, Chair of Bedford’s Selectmen, for his years of service as an HFAC member and as former Chair of the Commission. Goodspeed also delivered a message of appreciation from Airport Director Sharon Williams. Rosenberg spoke of his time on the Commission, recalling that although there had been some rough periods, he believed important steps had been taken to improve the relationship and communication between local communities and Massport. Fellow Commission members and the audience warmly applauded Rosenberg.
Too Many Frequent Flyers?
“I’m at a loss and I’m asking for help,” a longtime resident of Bedford’s South Road neighborhood pleaded, describing an overwhelming increase in repetitive low flyovers by small prop planes above her neighborhood, and above her house in particular. She said the flight pattern had only become oppressive in the last couple of years since she began speaking out at HFAC meetings. She explained she is not anti-pilot or anti-airport and has enjoyed living near the airfield for nearly thirty years.
Thomas Hirsch, HFAC member representing the Hanscom Pilots Association, suggested that the planes may have been diverted by the Air Traffic Control Tower to avoid other aircraft using runways, but the resident pointed out that the repeated passes over her neighborhood sometimes last for hours. In addition, by using her AirNoise.io button, (a small wifi device that identifies transponder signals, including N-numbers or tail numbers, from aircraft and automatically files a report to Massport when the button is pressed), she has been able to identify the majority of the planes as owned by a single local company.
“So where do I go? If somebody were doing this in a motor vehicle, I could call the police and I could say somebody has parked their 18-wheeler in my driveway or outside my house and they are revving it or jake-braking for 3 and 4 hours at a time. Or I could get a restraining order against it.
“So what can we do? I don’t want to wait five years to get the name of the person I need to reach out to.” She then cautioned HFAC members, “I do not want to see what has happened to Groton Ayer happen to Bedford.”
Note: The resident is referring to alleged targeted harassment by low-level flyovers of certain Groton and Ayer residences whose owners have filed complaints about aircraft belonging to Hanscom-based flight schools. Click the following links to learn more:
Mark Wimmer, Massport Airport Data Specialist for Hanscom, was queried about what happens to air noise filings and asked if Massport shares the reports with the aircraft owners. He explained Massport is willing to contact a flight school if it becomes apparent there is “an egregious offender”, adding that in the Bedford case more data is needed in order to help the resident. The resident agreed to continue sharing her AirNoise.io button data with Massport.
Massport data shows “touch and go” practice flights by small prop planes at Hanscom Field ranged from 2,524 to 5,090 per month during the past 12 months.
“They’re big, they’re low, and they’re loud”
Another Bedford resident described large jets flying low over her Meadowbrook neighborhood, approximately 2.5 miles from the airfield, on approach to Hanscom, “They’re big, they’re low, and they’re loud.”
During spring, summer, and fall, the number of large jets flying low over the neighborhood seems to have increased over the years to the point where it is often impossible to enjoy being in her own backyard. She added, “It’s really become quite unbearable.”
Observing that her location is miles from the runways, she asked, “Why are planes flying so low that far away? … I mean literally I feel like I can touch them.”
Margaret Coppe, longtime HFAC member representing the South Lexington Civic Association, added she had recently observed a large Delta jet low over Lexington center on approach to Hanscom. Anthony Gallagher, Massport Community Relations, suggested that the large jets might be on a holding pattern for Logan [Logan Airport is approximately 15 miles from Hanscom Airport], but Coppe assured him, “Trust us … we know the difference,” saying she had confirmed through FlightAware.com, a popular flight tracking app, that the jet over Lexington was a Delta charter landing at Hanscom.
Coppe pointed out that currently the Massport Monthly Noise Report lumps all jets into one data sector, and does not distinguish between small corporate jets and huge charter jets. She added that the present organization of the data makes it difficult to extract month-to-month changes in flight numbers and noise levels.
The Meadowbrook resident also suggested it would be useful to track jet altitude data in a monthly report to show changes in flight approach patterns.
HFAC Letter to MassDOT-Aeronautics Division
Chair Eliot read aloud the unanswered June 6, 2019 letter from HFAC to the MassDOT-Aeronautics Division asking for clarification of the authorities governing Hanscom flight school tenant activities alleged to have taken place over the communities of Ayer and Groton. Residents of those communities have repeatedly described the flight school activities to the Commission as harassing and potentially dangerous.
The letter was a follow-up to another unanswered HFAC letter on the same subject sent to MassDOT-AD five years ago. (click this link to see a copy of the June 6, 2019 letter). Rosenberg described the frustration of local officials trying to do their jobs but having their efforts seemingly disappear into a bureaucratic black hole. The Commission discussed contacting Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito to bring the matter to her attention.
Note: MassDOT-Aeronautics Division is the 2009 successor organization to the original Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission which was instrumental in creating the Laurence G. Hanscom Airport in 1941. It is currently housed within the Massport headquarters building at Logan Airport.
Massport Sets Bedford North Airfield T-Hangar Project In Motion
Gallagher reported the designer for the T-hangar project proposed for Bedford’s North Airfield will be chosen by Massport on February 25. When asked to point out on a map where the new hangars will be built, Gallagher was uncertain but invited people with questions about the location to email him (email@example.com) for a link to a previous Massport Environmental Assessment Report for Hanscom Field.
Rosenberg emphasized it is time for Massport to start talking to Bedford about how the construction project is to be handled in terms of access and time. Gallagher agreed to schedule a “refresher” on the project, adding he believes standard construction hours will be observed. A 2017 Massport runway repaving project at Hanscom Field involved heavy truck travel on Bedford roads 24/7 during a six-week period.
Pressed for further clarification about the location of the new hangar complex, Gallagher replied that although the Massport Environmental Assessment shows various areas that could be chosen, the T-hangars’ location was not necessarily set.
A Bedford resident expressed concern about construction access being routed through Bedford streets and the new airfield gate that Massport has planned off Hartwell Road. She also reminded HFAC members that Massport has proposed an additional Bedford North Airfield project, a corporate hangar complex, but has not updated the Commission on its status for a couple of years.
Gallagher was questioned about the relationship of Ross-Rectrix Aviation to the Bedford T-hangar construction project. He explained that although Massport will own the T-hangars, Ross-Rectrix will pay for their construction, in order to replace a set of Massport T-hangars currently occupying land on the Concord Pine Hill side of the airfield. Wimmer believes the Pine Hill T-hangars have been scheduled for demolition so nearby Ross-Rectrix Aviation can expand its ramp space to accommodate customers’ aircraft.
Asked if any of the Hanscom-based flight schools would be housed in the new Bedford T-hangars, Gallagher was uncertain but said he would look into the matter. An Ayer resident inquired if a directory of Massport hangar tenants at Hanscom Field is available and Emily Mitchell, HFAC and Bedford Selectman, also asked if the tenant list was public information. “I don’t know, but I’ll look into it,” Gallagher replied.
When asked if Massport could consider screening future Bedford T-hangar tenants to exclude flight school aircraft, as well as noisier aircraft such as helicopters and Cirrus model planes, because of the higher impact of their flight frequency, noise, emissions, and fumes on nearby neighborhoods, Gallagher offered to consult with the Massport Legal Department.
For the record, Coppe clarified with Gallagher and Wimmer that Massport will be the owner and landlord for the planned Bedford T-hangars.
Monthly Flight Operations
Massport data shows total Hanscom Field flight operations for the month of January (9,056) were up 9.1% compared to January of last year (8,302).
January Daytime Air Traffic (7 am to 11 pm)
- Aircraft touch and go practice flights up 2% from last year: 2,657 to 3,167
- Jets down 7% from last year: 2,583 to 2,461
- Small plane single flights up 5% from last year: 1,414 to 1,704
- Helicopters up 5% from last year: 755 to 774
- Turboprops up 7% from last year: 481 to 523
- Twin-engine piston aircraft flights up 1% from last year: 207 to 232
- Military operations more than doubled from last year: 18 to 43.
Military flights routinely average less than 1% of the annual total flight operations at Hanscom Field.
January Nighttime Air Traffic (11pm to 7am)
- General night flight operations were down 18.7% from last year: 187 to 152
- 45 of those flights were exempt from night fees
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.
Note: Night fees are imposed by Massport to discourage discretionary flights at Hanscom Field likely to cause sleep disturbance for residents of surrounding communities. Night fees collected at Hanscom Field for FY 2018 totaled $813,743 (https://www.massport.com/media/3115/state-of-hanscom-2018.pdf). The fees are not paid to the affected communities but instead are assigned to the Massport General Fund.
Monthly Air Noise Report
Goodspeed presented the monthly noise report, which indicates noise levels increased at 4 of 5 monitors for January as compared the same period last year. Recordings from Bedford’s Site 32 at the east end of Runway 11/29 could not be compared to last year since no data was collected in January 2019. That monitor was also missing data for January 21 and 22 this year.
DNL dB is a weighted average of recorded day and night air noise levels in decibels.
- Bedford, DeAngelo Drive Site 34: up 0.3 DNL dB
- Concord Airfield Site 31 (west end of Runway 11/29): up 1.0 DNL dB
- Lincoln, Brooks Road site 33: up 0.8 DNL dB
- Lexington, Preston Road site 35: up 0.1 DNL dB
- Concord Wastewater Plant Site 36: down 0.7 DNL dB
There were no +70 DNL dB days recorded for January.
Note: Recorded air noise levels above 65 DNL dB are significant because the FAA considers persistent noise above that level to be incompatible with noise-sensitive land use such as “residential, educational, health, and religious structures and sites, and parks, recreational areas, areas 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 67 in January 2019 to 228 in January 2020. Wimmer explained that the large backlog of Massport letters responding to air noise complaints is being gradually being reduced.
Noise Monitor Questions
Mitchell inquired how optimal locations for the six airport noise monitors had been determined and if additional monitors might be added. Goodspeed believes the monitor sites were selected many years ago by the airport noise contractor HMMH in combination with former members of HFAC. She explained that two of the monitors are on the airfield near Runway 11/29 at its east and west ends, but not the other runway, with the reasoning that Runway 11/29 handles 75-80% of air traffic. The other four monitors are on Bedford’s DeAngelo Drive, Lexington’s Preston Road, Lincoln’s Brooks Road, and near Concord’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Goodspeed admitted the monitors are aging and scheduled to be replaced in the next 18 months. However, she cautioned, “Massport’s airports are some of the few left in the country that actually have physical noise monitors left. All other airports are doing away with them because of the expense. They’re expensive to buy. They’re expensive to maintain. And as you can see, they’re breaking down due to the elements on a regular basis.” She added that Massport only uses the noise monitors for comparison with numbers from its air noise modeling program, adding, “I wouldn’t expect that we would get any more.”
From the Massport website https://www.massport.com/logan-airport/about-logan/noise-abatement/monitoring/: “Strategically located across the Boston Metropolitan Area, there are 35 listening stations that gather data which Massport uses to minimize the noise that Logan airport brings to the community.”
To receive notice of future HFAC meetings and agendas, please register (tap the “Notify Me” button) at the new HFAC website hosted by the Town of Lincoln at https://www.lincolntown.org/AgendaCenter/Hanscom-Field-Airport-Commission-58. Meeting minutes are being added to the website to increase public accessibility. Most HFAC meeting minutes and documents are presently archived in binders at the Civil Air Terminal and Logan Airport. They may be viewed after obtaining permission from Massport authorities.
Next HFAC Meeting March 17, 2020
HFAC will meet again on Tuesday, March 17, 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.