Flight Operations Recovery Stalls in Early Fall ~ Hanscom Field Advisory Commission ~ October, 2020

The summer’s gradual recovery of general aviation at Hanscom Field from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic slowed in September, with a decline in year over year and month to month numbers for the three largest categories of flight operations:  local flight school touch-and-go practice flights, other single-engine piston aircraft flights, and jet arrivals and departures.

During the videoconference meeting of the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission on October 20th, Amber Goodspeed, Massport administrative manager for the airport, briefed members and residents on the September downturn in overall flight operations.

This echoes the similar downturn in air traffic experienced by Logan Airport during late summer after several months of steadily increasing numbers, although the decreases at Logan are much more severe than the ones reported for Hanscom Field.

When asked how reported Massachusetts Port Authority drastic budget reduction and cost-cutting measures will affect Hanscom Field, Anthony Gallagher, Massport community relations representative replied, “It’s an evolving situation,” adding, “As things progress, and I and others know more, we will share more, but we can’t comment on that.”  Massport has a total of 1350 employees, 19 of them work at Hanscom Field.

HFAC Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln assessed the current situation for Massport, commenting, “There is going to be a new normal after this pandemic. And it may be that there’s a lot less air travel.”

The monthly statistics report, comparing September 2020 to September 2019, shows the dramatic and continuing impact of the coronavirus on airfield activity at Hanscom Field 

  • Total daytime flight operations down 17.4 percent, from 12,801 to 10,571;
  • Total nighttime flight operations down 30.3 percent, from 211 to 147;
  • Local touch-and-go practice flight operations down 10.7 percent, from 4,652 to 4,154;
  • Other single-engine flight operations down 24.2 percent, from 3,598 to 2,726;
  • Jet flight operations down 30.7 percent, from 2,589 to 1,793;
  • Helicopter flight operations down 1 percent, from 815 to 807;
  • Turbo prop flight operations down 16.7 percent, from 777 to 647;
  • Twin-engine flight operations up 19.4 percent, from 310 to 370;
  • Military flight operations up 23.3 percent, from 60 to 74.

Compared to August of this year, September total operations were down due to further declines in the three largest categories of flight operations:

  • Total daytime flight operations down 5 percent, from 11,123 to 10,571;
  • Total nighttime flight operations down 2.6 percent, from 151 to 147;
  • Local touch-and-go practice flight operations down 9.9 percent, from 4,608 to 4,154;
  • Other single-engine flight operations down 6.4 percent, from 2,913 to 2,726;
  • Jet flight operations down 2.6 percent, from 1,840 to 1,793;
  • Helicopter flight operations essentially steady, from 809 to 807;
  • Turboprop flight operations up 16.4 percent, from 556 to 647;
  • Twin-engine flight operations up 3.4 percent, from 358 to 370;
  • Military flight operations up 89.7 percent, from 39 to 74.

Military flights typically average less than 1 percent of yearly flight operations activity at Hanscom Field.  The Air Force transferred control of the airport and airfield to Massport for civilian general aviation operations in 1974.

Noise levels show a year over year trend downward in September recorded by the two airfield noise monitors, the Lincoln noise monitor, and the Lexington noise monitor, but an increase in noise levels recorded by the Bedford DeAngelo Drive and Concord wastewater plant site monitors.

Air noise disturbance reports soared from August 2020 to September 2020, tripling from 101 to 314, despite overall flight operations falling 5 percent during the same time period.

“Do you have a theory for why there was such a huge jump?” asked Emily Mitchell, HFAC and Bedford Select Board member, adding, “Was it just greater traffic? Or were there particular days or incidents that would have created such a leap?”

Goodspeed couldn’t point to one specific thing but noted that north-south trending Runway 5/23 is being used a little more frequently due to prevailing winds, so both Lincoln and Bedford may be experiencing more air traffic.

Asked about the disturbance reports coming from towns as far to the east and south as Winchester, Medford, Cambridge, and Needham, Goodspeed explained that complaints from those towns are typically “one-offs” generated by business jets flying in or out of Hanscom Field.

When asked if the rise in complaints might be associated with the flight school shifting practice patterns so that more flights took take place over Bedford Center during September, Goodspeed said she was uncertain, but would look into the matter before the next meeting.

Saying she felt the earlier question of a possible increase in flight school practice sessions over certain Bedford neighborhoods was significant, Patty Dahlgren, longtime Bedford South Road neighborhood resident, added, “Up until the past year, I can honestly say that the only real issues were super eye-bleeding loud planes. I don’t ever — over decades — remember being annoyed by the small planes. In the past year, I have experienced a dramatic shift in that.”

To learn more about issues with flight school practice sessions over populated areas and how noise complaints are (or are not) handled by Massport, please click https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2020/10/hanscom-fields-daytime-noise-complaints-who-sees-them/

In response to a resident’s inquiry about why the new Massport email response to noise disturbance reports seems to consistently skip some residents, Goodspeed admitted, “Right now, we basically only have the ability to respond to the Airnoise button,” but added, “Moving forward, those email complaints will definitely be responded to through the system.”

The Airnoise button is a small wifi device and subscription service which allows full noise disturbance reports to be filed with Massport using a single touch. Residents may also file reports through the Massport Hanscom website or call the Hanscom Noise Report line at 781-869-8050.

Goodspeed was also asked about what the “blocked” label means on flight tracking apps. She explained that military flight IDs are blocked for security reasons.  Thomas Hirsch of Bedford, HFAC member and Hanscom Pilots Association representative, added that large corporate entities also may block the ID of their aircraft if their executives prefer to travel unobserved.

Goodspeed noted that vegetation management activities on and near the airfield would resume once the ground freezes. To learn more about the Massport Vegetation Management Plan for trimming, girdling and/or cutting over 100 mature trees in the Bedford Jordan Conservation Area, click https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2019/12/hanscom-field-advisory-commission-short-takes-for-november-2019/

When Dahlgren pressed Goodspeed to clarify the timeline for construction of a new access gate off Hartwell Road in Bedford leading to a proposed T-hangar complex, she explained that although Massport will construct the T-hangars, Ross Rectrix Aviation will pay for the project and therefore is in charge of determining the construction timeline.

Dahlgren persisted, asking, “When should our town expect to start seeing construction trucks?” explaining, “I just want to make sure we’re not getting 30 or 60 days’ notice, so that we learn from our prior experience and that we work out solutions in advance.” Goodspeed said she assumes there will be more than 60 days’ notice.

Also, Goodspeed noted that the Boeing 707 owned by MIT Lincoln Lab is slated to be retired from service.  (To see full coverage of the 55-year-old former Pan Am Clipper’s interesting history, its second career as an important test aircraft for the military, and its October 23 farewell ceremony at Hanscom Air Force Base before its final flight to an Arizona government aircraft boneyard, click here: https://www.ll.mit.edu/news/lincoln-laboratory-says-good-bye-its-airborne-test-bed; and here: https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2020/05/is-it-a-bird-its-a-plane-boeing-707-based-at-mit-lincoln-lab/)

HFAC’s next virtual meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17 at 7 p.m. People who would like to receive email notice of HFAC meetings and agendas may register at the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission website hosted by the Town of Lincoln at https://www.lincolntown.org/AgendaCenter/Hanscom-Field-Airport-Commission-58.


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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