The Hanscom Field Advisory Commission (HFAC) on Dec. 15 advised Massport that it would like to see improvements in correlating noise complaints to specific aircraft, as well as more formalized and effective communication with local flight schools about noise complaints.
HFAC and Bedford Select Board member Emily Mitchell asked if and when Massport will be able to provide the breakdown of noise complaints by aircraft type that had been requested during the November meeting. Acknowledging possible software limits, she continued, “Is there any kind of breakdown that would be possible? Even jet versus turbo versus single engine? Or is even that level not currently collected?”
“We’re at the mercy of the capabilities of the software we have and the funding and resources we currently have,” replied Amber Goodspeed, Massport airport administrative manager for Hanscom Field.
Anthony Gallagher, Massport community relations representative, commented that although such aircraft identification data is accessible using publicly available flight tracking apps, Massport’s own software does not collect it. “At the scale of all operations, that does become an incredibly tough cumbersome task where there’s got to be a better way. I think we don’t think we have that way available to us yet.”
“I think what they’re saying is that the data is there,” HFAC Chair Christopher Eliot suggested, “but just to get a breakdown of complaints by aircraft type would require simultaneously looking at the monitors, the tracking reports, and the noise reports. And it sounds like they don’t know how to combine those databases.”
Eliot suggested that if people with Airnoise buttons (small WiFi devices with a subscription service that automatically files noise complaints with Massport) could generate a report linking noise complaints to individual aircraft IDs and types, the commission would be happy to look at it, if the information can be condensed into a usable form.
However, he conjectured that for a Massport staff member to manually link the 218 November entries in its noise complaint database with aircraft IDs might require as much as 218 minutes of staff time during the month. “If you can find a way, please let us see it. We understand that you’re limited,” Eliot requested of Goodspeed and Gallagher.
Goodspeed allowed for the possibility of a special report if resources are available.
“We appreciate you’re struggling with capacity issues right now,” Mitchell told her.
Asked if 218 minutes per month would be an excessive burden for Massport staff, Mitchell replied, “It may not feel like a lot, but it adds up and I don’t want to exacerbate anybody’s pain right now.”
Eliot suggested that Massport could be asked to link a small number of the November noise complaints to aircraft type, so the commission would have a sample that could be used as a rough estimate. “I’m happy to look into it,” Gallagher responded.
The commission and Massport also continued to grapple with the long-standing issue of identifying specific flight school aircraft which generate noise complaints during the day.
Last month Eliot requested a December report on whether Massport’s system for communicating these complaints to the aircraft operators is effective. The commission also wanted to know how those complaints are shared with flight schools.
Gallagher presented the commission with a template letter Massport uses to notify pilots of noise disturbance filings – but only for flights between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am Click this link to read Massport’s letter. Regarding daytime operations, Gallagher insisted an informal conversational feedback loop already exists through Massport’s quarterly meetings with flight schools to discuss touch-and-go practice flights.
He added, “If an aircraft is coming and doing exactly what it’s being told to do by the FAA and air traffic control, and not running afoul of any regulatory provision … we can kind of encourage pilots to be as mindful as possible. But realistically from a teeth perspective, we always say, ‘We’re the pavement, we’re not the air,’ ” referring to the FAA’s authority over pilot actions once planes leave the runway.
Chair Eliot remarked, “Certainly, one has to trust in good faith amongst the pilots, that if they hear that there’s been a bunch of complaints, the good-faith response would be that they would try to do something. So I think at this point, all we’re asking is that they’re informed of complaints.” “They are,” Gallagher assured him.
Amy McCoy of Ayer asked whether specific daytime noise complaints are sent to individual pilots or if a general summary of all noise data is shared with flight schools at the quarterly meetings with Massport. Gallagher responded, “Well, as you see here for the nighttime where we have the ability to do that, we do it. For daytime it is a trickier scenario. I understand it’s frustrating.”
“I would be happy if the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission as a Commission wanted to take a stand on this and send us an advisory and request that we look into this further on that end,” Gallagher added.
McCoy’s representative in the Legislature, State Rep. Sheila Harrington, referring to longtime issues with Hanscom-based flight school practice sessions over her district, observed, “We have people out there that have identified the actual plane,” adding that some of the planes fly so low over people’s homes in her constituency that there is video confirmation of the identification number.
“So I guess that’s where the frustration really comes in, is that all these people are calling, thinking that their complaints are being registered, and no matter how detailed they may be … they’re going into the trash,” Harrington continued. “Except for a group routine meeting, the actual offenders are not being called on the carpet the day that they do it or the next day. It’s being put aside, nobody’s really taking it seriously, because it’s not a noise abatement regulation time between 11 pm and 7 am.”
Gallagher protested, “We’re not throwing them away,” insisting Massport actually does share noise complaint data in some form.
Gallagher agreed to Eliot’s request to share HFAC’s monthly noise reports with the flight schools. Eliot also suggested that Massport graph aircraft N-numbers versus number of noise complaints so when one aircraft generates multiple complaints, it signals Massport to identify the operator, inform him/her of the complaints, and discuss with the pilot what behavior is triggering complaints. “That’s the level of communication that I’d be hoping for,” Eliot concluded.
“I think there’s a value opportunity in that and I’m happy to do so and see what we can do to get together,” Gallagher replied. He added that he would investigate whether minutes of the Massport quarterly meetings with flight schools are available to HFAC, as requested by Chair Eliot.
Margaret Coppe, representing the South Lexington Civic Association on the commission, pointed out that while not all night flights generate noise complaints, each night flight (excluding medical transports, emergency landings, and government aircraft) is required to pay a night flight surcharge. She asked about the Massport billing process.
Gallagher explained, “It’s a camera billing system that involves airfield technology. So that is not going through the same channel as a noise complaint. I believe that it’s much, much more automated.” He agreed to provide the commission with additional information on how nighttime flight operators are identified for fee collection. Gallagher added he believes Massport’s process is similar to the Easy Pass system for cars, with aircraft N-numbers (aka tail numbers) being recorded by a camera.