State Rep. Sheila Harrington of Groton asked the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission during a Jan. 19 meeting to issue an advisory to Massport on behalf of her district concerning long-standing allegations that Hanscom-based flight school aircraft are being used to harass a number of her constituents by repeated low overflights.
She suggested as a first step that the commission simply advise Massport that it is unacceptable that its flight school tenants are continuing to engage in problem behavior.
“I’ve never seen anybody have a lease that doesn’t have a consequence if you don’t act properly. I don’t think that’s even a huge stretch for Massport to put that in a lease.”
The three commission members listened to her request, but no action was taken as no quorum was present. Concord and Lexington are currently without a town representative for HFAC, and the Bedford town representative had a schedule conflict with her Select Board meeting.
Harrington said, “I’m not sure if in some respects the people of Harvard, Ayer, Groton, Westford, Lunenburg … are really being looked at as serious complainants. Meaning they’re not in a border town. So I think that maybe it’s been easier for the HFAC not to help them.”
HFAC Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln responded, “My personal view is that we would never condone any kind of flying harassment and I would hope that nobody at Massport would condone that.” He added, “All we could do is recommend to Massport that they not allow that.”
This is not the first time this issue has been brought to the attention of the commission. At more recent meetings during the past two years, Massport officials have denied responsibility and directed the complainants to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Last month, pointing out that Massport is the landlord of its flight school tenants, Harrington asked the commission to consider the analogy of an apartment tenant harassing neighbors across the street with the landlord’s awareness: “It’s not technically on your property that they’re doing it, but they are affecting the neighbors. They are doing something that is in some situations almost deliberately adversarial. And they’re doing it with your knowledge. You would say, ‘You know what, if you keep it up, I’m not going to rent this apartment to you, because it isn’t right that all of our neighbors have to put up with this.’ ”
“All we’re saying is we think the HFAC should at least take a good look at discussing with Massport what could be used as a consequence if there are repeat offenders.”
She reminded commission members that her constituents have been complaining about the Hanscom flight school activities since the 1990s.
Through the years residents of her district have repeatedly appealed to their legislators, the FAA, MassDOT-Aeronautics Division, and even engaged in legal action against a Hanscom Field flight school. They have also approached HFAC for assistance several times since 2004. Rep. Harrington spoke on her constituents’ behalf to HFAC in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Two Ayer residents have regularly attended HFAC meetings since April 2019.
Addressing HFAC’s geographic range of responsibility, Bedford State Rep. Ken Gordon offered his view that the commission was originally organized by the Legislature to address concerns of the towns directly adjacent to the airfield.
“I’m not sure we’re in a position to take the time … to bring forward issues from an area that’s 20 miles away,” he said, adding, “Because if we do that, then what happens to the next people that come in from Worcester? What happens to the next people that come in from New Hampshire? Or Vermont? Or Connecticut?”
He cited the HFAC discussion earlier that evening of potential environmental impacts of leaded avgas on airfield neighborhoods as an example of an important local issue for contiguous towns.
However, HFAC member Margaret Coppe, the representative of the South Lexington Civic Association, pointed out that the enabling legislation for the commission states that representation is also allowed for “other area towns impacted by aviation at Hanscom Field.” She added, “I think that would cover Ayer and Groton.” To see the HFAC statute, click here: https://bit.ly/2Z0sApP
Harrington agreed with Coppe’s interpretation that the language of the HFAC statute crafted by former State Sen. Carol Amick in 1980 recognizes that other towns besides Bedford, Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln may be impacted by Hanscom aviation activity. She continued, “Unless you’re going to limit [Hanscom flight schools] to … the four contiguous towns for their flight training programs so you can control them, I think you’re leaving everyone else high and dry.”
Gordon then suggested the residents of Harrington’s district have avenues other than HFAC to seek redress for the Hanscom-based flight school activities taking place over their area.
Harrington and her constituents have explained to HFAC at previous meetings they have repeatedly sought help from FAA authorities to curb certain Hanscom-based flight school activity over their area to no avail.
“But you can advise,” Harrington urged. “You could advise Massport that as far as the commission, you don’t want to see tenants that are purposely going out and harassing people.”
Coppe again spoke, “I agree with Representative Harrington that what we have been hearing for months now is that we want Massport to become a partner with the citizens in correcting this problem. And this is a problem. I don’t think anybody is denying that it is a problem.”
“Should Massport do something about it, since they’re the landlord? We haven’t gotten anywhere with that, but I think that’s what we’ve been trying to do. But we can only advise,” Coppe continued, adding, “That doesn’t mean they’ll do anything. That’s the problem.”