“Not only do I think it’s frustrating, I think it’s unconscionable,” State Rep. Sheila Harrington told the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission (HFAC) and Massport during their Dec. 15 meeting.
Harrington was criticizing a lack of attention to repeated complaints through the years about air noise and potential safety issues associated with Hanscom-based flight school activity over her district, which includes Ayer and Groton.
Addressing Massport’s community relations representative, Anthony Gallagher, Harrington said, “I appreciate that you’re definitely trying to work within the guidelines, but I have to say I have been working on this for at least five years. I know that there is video footage, there are plane identification numbers: it predominantly goes to East Coast Aero Club [the largest flight school at Hanscom Field]. She added, “And I have to be honest with you – I have a real frustration with HFAC. Because my understanding of your role is to be there for the citizens, for the communities that surround the area that’s covered by Hanscom Field.
Mentioning her previous visits to HFAC, she continued, “It’s like you just heard about this,” adding, “There are reams of documentation to show you who is doing this. But I don’t know who we’re protecting here. I don’t understand it. You have had so incredibly many complaints about certain entities.”
Harrington went on to mention that following her visit to HFAC in 2019 to speak up about troubling issues with Hanscom-based flight school aircraft activity in her district, the next day one of their planes tracked a path over her office for the first time. She also mentioned she has seen social media posts encouraging pilots to harass people in her district.
“Maybe I don’t understand the role of HFAC. But I don’t know why there is this protectionism of the people that are harassing the citizens and communities surrounding Hanscom Field. I wish I could understand the justification of every month you starting at the beginning, ‘We need to identify these people.’”
“These people have been identified over and over again, and nothing happens. I’ve only been looking at it for five years watching nothing happen. But some people have been watching it for 20 years.”
Chair Chris Eliot noted that HFAC is an advisory rather than an enforcement commission. “But aren’t you supposed to be trying to help the people of the community?” Harrington asked. “We’re trying to help, but we don’t have any power,” Eliot maintained.
He then explained the Commission’s logic in trying to clarify the Massport process for routine handling of noise reports “so that we can get the good faith operations off the table. And then we can say, okay, we’ve made sure that there’s no excuses. That the flight schools are being clearly conveyed the degree to which people complain about the noise. They’ve got no excuses. They can’t say that they’ve never been told or heard about it. And then what remains is – if they’re not taking voluntary actions – what remains is truly the harassment.”
Harrington told Gallagher, “My understanding is [Hanscom Field] is so highly regulated that you would know who took off from the airport at any given time. And they would have to show you their flight plan. In fact, if they’re obeying the regulations, aren’t they supposed to have their transponders on at all times?”
“I’ve watched these videos [of flight tracking apps] where they go, and the second they get to the point in Ayer where they’re deciding that they’re going to harass people, they turn their transponders off, which is a violation. I just don’t understand it. Nothing seems to get off the ground. You have video footage, you have complaints. You have plane identification numbers. Regardless, it’s like no one can identify or give any firm determination as to what’s going on.”
She added, “I really believe that Massport is aware of the players that are violating the rules, and that are harassing people. I mean, some of them are brazen enough, they’ll put it on Facebook, for God’s sake.
“If Massport is so constantly made aware of this, why are you not telling them, ‘You’re out. You do it again and you’re out’? This isn’t their land, they don’t own it, they’re tenants and they’re misbehaving. If they’re going out there, and they’re purposefully harassing the people in the surrounding communities for the sheer fun of it, why is Massport not taking them to the curb and saying, ‘You’re out’? Why aren’t warnings being issued based upon complaints being made?”
“So it’s more than frustrating – it’s wrong. It’s wrong. And the only one that can change it is Massport,” she concluded.
However, Gallagher responded that he believes the issues Harrington describes are matters for the FAA Flight Standards District Office. “This is kind of like asking a parking enforcement agent to give out a DUI-lock. We’re not cops. The FAA is the enforcement wing of the air. We’re on the ground. And I know that’s not a satisfying answer.”
Saying Massport has not come through on its offer a couple of years ago to set up a meeting with the FAA, and the FAA itself has not responded to repeated requests by her own office for a meeting, Rep. Harrington observed, “Everywhere I look, every finger keeps pointing back to Massport on this thing.”
A resident mentioned that a warning system for flight operators is policy at some other airports, and Eliot said, “If we can document that there are other airports that do this, then that could be phrased I believe as advice to Hanscom that they should follow suit.”
The terms of flight school leases with Massport were discussed as a potential means for Massport to exercise some control over its tenants’ behavior. Eliot also expressed interest in learning about a warning system in use at some other airports that links noise level violations as measured by noise monitors to consequences for operators.