HFAC Short Takes ~ March 2021~Pandemic Drives Monthly Aviation Down 28% from 2020

At their March 16 meeting, Hanscom Field Advisory Commission members learned that the pandemic is still battering flight activity at Hanscom Field.  Overall flight operations are down 28% for the month of February as compared to pre-pandemic February 2020.  All categories – daytime flights, nighttime flights, training practice flights, single and twin-piston engine flights, turboprop flights, jet flights, helicopter flights, and military flights – are down compared to last year.

The February flight operations data set, shown below, is the last time that 2021 operations will be compared to 2020 pre-pandemic operations.  Beginning with the March 2021 flight activity report, which Massport will present to HFAC in April, comparisons will be apples to apples, between two pandemic years.  Hanscom Field flight operations data first began to reflect the pandemic hit to U.S. air travel during March 2020, when monthly operations suddenly fell by 25.5% compared to the previous year (10,003 flight ops down to 7,455).

Despite an inability to take any official actions during the latter half of the March 16 HFAC meeting due to a lack of quorum, Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln and HFAC member Thomas Hirsch of Bedford covered and discussed as much material as circumstances allowed, and Massport staff presented their regular monthly reports to the public on flight operations, aircraft noise, and airfield project developments.

February 2021/2020 Year over Year Flight Operations:

  • Total daytime flight operations down 28.0%, from 8,998 to 6,480;
  • Total nighttime flight operations down 30.1%, from 163 to 114;
  • Local, pattern work and touch-and-go practice flight operations down 30.4%, from 3,124 to 2,174;
  • Other single-engine piston aircraft flight operations down 36.0%, from 1,769 to 1,133;
  • Jet flight operations down 26.2%, from 2,640 to 1,949;
  • Helicopter flight operations down 11.6%, from 715 to 632;
  • Turbo prop flight operations down 29.6%, from 446 to 314;
  • Twin-piston engine aircraft flight operations down 6.1%, from 246 to 231;
  • Military flight operations down from 58 to 47.

Military flights typically average less than 1 percent of yearly flight operations activity at Hanscom Field.  The Air Force relinquished control of the airport and airfield to Massport for civilian general aviation operations 47 years ago in 1974.

Monthly Noise Report

Amber Goodspeed, Massport airport administrative manager for Hanscom Field, reported noise complaints about Hanscom-based aircraft have decreased compared to the previous year, falling from 246 in February 2020 to 129 in February 2021, made by 17 separate callers from Ayer, Bedford, Chelmsford, Concord, Groton, Lincoln, Needham, and Winchester.

Goodspeed noted that 5 of the 6 air noise monitors recorded lower noise levels than the year before:  Site 34 at Bedford’s DeAngelo Drive; Site 31 on the airfield near the west end of Runway 11/29; Site 36 near the Concord Wastewater Plant; Site 35 at Lexington’s Preston Road; and Site 33 Lincoln’s Brooks Road.  Only Bedford’s Site 32 on the airfield near the east end of Runway 11/29 showed a slight uptick in recorded noise, despite overall air traffic being down 28% from last year.  That monitor also recorded one day with 70+ DNL (weighted average of day and night noise levels in decibels).  However, Goodspeed believes that high measurement does not correlate to aircraft noise.  Instead, she speculated it may be related to snow removal operations or high wind.

Note:  Recorded air noise levels above 65 DNL decibels 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).

Eliot also asked Massport to clarify whether or not noise disturbance reports are routinely shared with the FAA.  Mike Vatalaro, Massport’s Community Relations representative explained that some air noise reports are shared with the Hanscom FAA Air Traffic Control Tower “if they [aircraft] are not in the right flight path, or they take a weird turn that they’re not supposed to.  Then yes, we can get to the Tower to figure out what happened.  But for the most part, if it’s normal procedure … they don’t go to the FAA.”

Hirsch asked Goodspeed if Massport has made any progress on an earlier HFAC request to provide a breakdown of air noise complaints by the type of aircraft or flight operation that triggered complaints.  “No,” she answered.

Monthly Projects Report

In response to a request made last month by Hirsch, Goodspeed presented conceptual drawings of the new Signature FBO facility to be built near the main airport terminal.  Project work began on March 1 and is expected to be completed over the next nine months.  It involves first constructing the new FBO building on a lot adjacent to the original facility, then demolishing the old Signature terminal building and replacing a large portion of its original lot with additional ramp parking for aircraft.

Hirsch observed, “It looks to me like a lot of grass area is going away when you consider that where the old building is not being replaced by grass, but by ramp.”

He explained his concern about paving over grass areas was due to past years’ flooding of the main airport terminal building during heavy rainfall.

Hirsch pointed out that Massport is supposed to have a policy to minimize paving over new areas on the airfield.  The policy in theory requires that any new pavement created be offset by the creation of an equivalent new rainfall-permeable surface area.

Eliot asked for clarification of the Massport pavement construction rule, but Massport staff had no comment.

Hirsch also questioned how effective the planned solar array atop the new Signature FBO would be when covered with snow during winter months, given that drawings depict them installed not on an angle, but “flatter than a pancake.”  “I’m sure it’ll survive, but … covered with snow, does it actually generate anything,” he asked.  Massport staff offered no comment.

Airport Impact on Cultural Historic Resources

After the regular monthly reports, Eliot gave a brief review of Massport’s published plan to protect local historic and cultural resources as seen in its most recent airfield environmental review (https://www.massport.com/media/3182/2017_hanscom_espr_web.pdf).  He noted there are a number of potential archaeological sites on and near the airfield, and that “During construction planning, priority will be given to reusing previously built areas rather than building in new areas.  This commission should be aware of this good policy and consider it when we review Massport capital projects.”

“Minuteman Park and Battlefield is a historic area of international significance.  There are buildings and museums and park areas of cultural significance within and surrounding the national park that can be affected by aircraft noise.  Hartwell Tavern is specifically given protected status so visitors can enjoy that site and listen to presentations without distractions [from overflights by local flight schools].”

Next HFAC Meeting

Commission members will meet again via videoconference on Tuesday, April 20 at 7 p.m.  Discussion at that meeting will focus on:

  • A review of Massport’s airfield sustainability and environmental management efforts as described in the last chapter of its most recent Hanscom Field environmental review (click here to see the 2017 L.G. Hanscom Field Environmental Status and Planning Report: https://www.massport.com/media/3182/2017_hanscom_espr_web.pdf)
  • A discussion of future developments in aviation

The April agenda and Zoom login information will be posted on the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission website hosted by the Town of Lincoln at https://www.lincolntown.org/AgendaCenter/Hanscom-Field-Airport-Commission-58


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Christopher Eliot
Christopher Eliot
1 year ago

Please not that the next HFAC meeting will be Wednesday, April 21 at 7 p.m. instead of the normal Tuesday time because there is a conflict with another town meeting.

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