HFAC Short Takes for April 2021

The Hanscom Field Advisory Commission (HFAC) began its April 21 meeting by welcoming new member Barbara Katzenberg, town representative for Lexington, and announcing that Mark Giddings has been appointed as Concord’s HFAC town representative.  Members then voted to have Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln continue leading the commission for the coming year.

Eliot described his view of HFAC’s mission:  “I think the commission should be positioned between Massport and the communities to facilitate discussion and education,” adding, “I see Hanscom Field as providing benefits to the communities, mostly economic, and problems, mostly noise. This commission should address the problems and expand the benefits to make the airport as compatible with life in the communities as possible.”

Katzenberg explained she is a new town meeting member in Lexington and, “When I ran for the office, I said that my key interests were in sustainability and environmental issues, biodiversity and so forth, so it feels like a good match to the Hanscom Field Commission.”  (The environmental issues covered during the April meeting, including Massport’s sustainability initiatives, recent advances in alternative aviation fuel sources and electric aircraft, and Massport’s response to the HFAC request for airfield soil testing for lead, can be seen here:  https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2021/04/hfac-focused-on-environmental-issues-in-april/ )

March Flight Operations Report

The discussion of monthly flight operations numbers began with an observation from HFAC member and South Lexington Civic Association representative Margaret Coppe:  “I noticed that the totals for last year—April and May—are way, way down. I’ve never seen anything that low. Are those accurate?”

“Those are accurate.  We practically had no traffic during those months,” confirmed Amber Goodspeed, Massport airport administrative manager for Hanscom Field.

They were referring to the two months when the full effect of the Covid-19 pandemic finally hit air traffic and Hanscom flight operations plummeted from 7,507 in March 2020 to only 2,358 for April and 3,652 for May.

By June, monthly flight numbers had risen to 8,139.  Thomas Hirsch, HFAC member and Hanscom Pilots Association representative, pointed out the timing coincided with flight schools beginning to reopen, “because there were [infection prevention] protocols that they could follow that enabled them to continue on with their business.”

Goodspeed added, “There were some fluctuations and trends based on not only what Massachusetts’ restrictions, or lifting of restrictions, were each month, but also based on what other state restrictions were, and if jets were able to leave Hanscom and go to another state or vice versa.”

The March flight operations data below are the first time that 2021 operations will be compared across two pandemic years.  They show continued recovery across all categories of flights and aircraft.

March 2021/2020 Year over Year Flight Operations:

  • Total daytime flight operations up 29.1%, from 7,507 to 9,693;
  • Total nighttime flight operations up 19.7%, from 122 to 146;
  • Local, pattern work and touch-and-go practice flight operations up 26.2%, from 2,515 to 3174;
  • Other single-engine piston aircraft flight operations up 46.2%, from 1,371 to 2,005;
  • Jet flight operations up 32.7%, from 2,224 to 2,952;
  • Helicopter flight operations up 9.1%, from 737 to 804;
  • Turbo prop flight operations up 7.9%, from 369 to 398;
  • Twin-piston engine aircraft flight operations up 15.8%, from 253 to 293;
  • *Military flight operations up from 38 to 67.

Monthly Change in Flight Operations, February to March 2021:

  • Total daytime flight operations up 49.6%, from 6,480 to 9,693;
  • Total nighttime flight operations up 28.1%, from 114 to 146;
  • Local, pattern work and touch-and-go practice flight operations up 46.0%, from 2,174 to 3174;
  • Other single-engine piston aircraft flight operations up 77.0%, from 1,133 to 2,005;
  • Jet flight operations up 51.5%, from 1,949 to 2,952;
  • Helicopter flight operations up 27.2%, from 632 to 804;
  • Turboprop flight operations up 26.8%, from 314 to 398;
  • Twin-piston engine aircraft flight operations up 26.8%, from 231 to 293;
  • *Military flight operations up from 47 to 67.

*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 Air Noise Report

Air noise complaints were up 40% year over year:  232 for March 2021 as compared to 166 for March 2020.  The reports came from 34 residents from the twelve towns of Ayer, Bedford, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Concord, Groton, Hudson (NH), Lexington, Lincoln, Needham, Tyngsboro, and Winchester.

The noise filings were also up 80% month to month from February to March:  from 129 up to 232.

When asked by the Chair about a particularly loud jet flight during the night of March 30th, Goodspeed explained that she had verified it was a medical flight that came to Hanscom to collect a human heart for delivery elsewhere.

Hirsch complimented Boston MedFlight on its responsiveness to queries by residents during the winter about some particularly intensive helicopter pilot training sessions over Bedford neighborhoods.  [The sessions ordinarily take place once a year at an Airbus facility in Helsinki, Finland, but had to be canceled because of the pandemic]. “It wasn’t really that Massport forced them to do that. They did it once they were made aware of what the issue was. And they corrected that, in the interest of serving the community.”

Mark Wimmer, Massport airport data specialist added, “We worked directly with the chief pilot of BostonMed to help organize them going to other airports” to spread the training sessions around other airports in the area.  (To read about the Boston MedFlight helicopter pilot training sessions, see https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2021/03/boston-medflight-annual-pilot-training-moves-beyond-bedford/ )

All six air noise monitors (two on the airfield, and one each in the towns of Bedford, Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln), registered higher recorded air noise levels in March 2021 compared to March 2020, ranging from increases between 0.5 decibels DNL (weighted day/night average noise level) at Bedford’s DeAngelo Drive monitor up to an increase of 13.3 decibels DNL at the Bedford airfield monitor at the east end Runway 11/29.

Goodspeed said she believes the increase in recorded noise corresponds to the increase in air traffic activity and attributes the high decibel levels recorded at the Bedford airfield monitor to a damaged windscreen.

In answer to a question from an Ayer resident, Wimmer confirmed that the Hanscom Field Air Traffic Control (ATC) Tower chief attends the Massport quarterly meetings with flight schools about touch and go practice, but noted that since the meetings are informal, no meeting minutes are kept.  He explained that ATC controls day-to-day flight operations in the airspace within a five-mile radius around Bedford and that Massport brings certain types of complaints about flights within that area to the FAA Tower Chief.

Members discussed some of the differences among different methods used to file air noise complaints with Massport:  by phone, through an online account with Massport, or using the Airnoise button (a small Wi-fi device, with a low-cost subscription service that IDs an aircraft and automatically files a report to Massport when the button is clicked).  Mitchell pointed out that the requirement to have an account with Massport in order to file noise reports online may be a barrier to service for some residents.

Wimmer said Massport’s newly improved electronic response system should be operational in May.  Several members expressed interest in trying out the system.

Other News

Eliot mentioned that Senator Mike Barrett, a former HFAC Chair, has proposed a bill relative to the repeal of the State sales tax exemption for aircraft.  He noted that several previous efforts to reinstate the sales tax have so far proved unsuccessful.

Hirsch said he believes the reason the bill has had difficulty passing is that “surrounding states have similar laws and there would be a big loss of business because people would just go to the adjoining states and do their business there.”

Next HFAC Meeting

Commission members will meet again via videoconference on Tuesday, May 18 at 7 p.m.  Discussion at that meeting will focus on:

  • An ongoing chapter by chapter review of the most recent Massport airfield environmental assessment: the 2017 L.G. Hanscom Field Environmental Status and Planning Report (aka 2017 ESPR).  For May, the Commission will cover Chapter One:  Executive Summary, pages 1-1 through 1-42.  Readers may click here to access the full report: https://www.massport.com/media/3182/2017_hanscom_espr_web.pdf)
  • Community goals for HFAC
  • Consideration of continuing to use Zoom for future meetings to preserve convenience and accessibility for the public

The May 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.