A routine, uneventful meeting of the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission Tuesday on Zoom suddenly transformed into an extended session of laments about aircraft volume and noise by residents of several towns.
There were no responses from representatives of the Massachusetts Port Authority attending.
Central to the discussion was the report from Massport on noise complaints received in September, totaling an even 600. A year earlier there were 315 complaints. The report said the notifications were from 44 different households in 15 towns. One resident filed 186 complaints; another logged 111.
Margaret Coppe, one of the senior members of the commission who represents North Lexington neighborhoods, introduced the topic during Massport’s monthly noise report, noting that “there’s a lot of listservs in Lexington about noise and planes.” Coppe noted a significant increase in jet traffic from the same period a year earlier.
A little later, Bedford resident Chris Boles recounted encountering a low-flying helicopter on Oct. 9 while in his Concord Road backyard. “I’m concerned that things like that are going to be on the increase and would be very disturbing to residential neighborhoods in all of the Hanscom towns,” he said.
Sven Weber, who said he has lived in Concord for about a year, asked why the noise complaints escalated. Thomas Hirsch of Bedford, who represents the Hanscom Pilots Association on the commission, credited the ‘Airnoise Button,’ an electronic device programmed to identify the source of aircraft noise and transmit the information to Massport. “It used to be way too much trouble to complain in the middle of the night,” he suggested. “There probably has been that same noise over the year. Now it’s much easier to report it.”
Weber continued, “We have flights coming over or near our house that are completely fine. Then three flights back to back that are lower or more aggressive and you are falling off your chair.” Then a fourth plane is much like the first group.
Leda Zimmerman, a 20-year resident of Lexington’s Manor neighborhood, told the meeting that “the jet noise has never been worse. On some days it is literally incessant. We can’t hear anything inside the house even with the windows closed.”
That area of Lexington is beneath a flight path to a Hanscom runway. “Massport leaves me and my neighbors feel[ing] like helpless sheep who feel like they no longer have a say in what feels like the environmental destruction of an entire neighborhood,” asserted Zimmerman. “It really is becoming unbearable. There has got to be a larger space for people to say, ‘No. Too big. Too much.’”
Pam Nelson, a resident of Bedford’s Prescott Farms subdivision near the end of South Road, expressed “deep concern” about Massport’s proposed fixed-base operator (FBO) on the so-called North Airfield near Hartwell Road. Leaded fuel is a major concern; so is “noise that is becoming incompatible with residential living.”
Christopher Eliot of Lincoln, advisory commission chair, noted that the group heard earlier this year about a General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI) unleaded fuel product, which may be ready for use in two or three years. Nelson asked what happens until then. She called for “detailed reports on lead and toxic substances. “It’s not acceptable. We should have a voice in the community.”
Boles contended that “there are more flights over Bedford between 500 and 1,000 feet every month. The air noise situation is not getting better even if there is an overall decrease in flights. The noise is getting worse, and you’re going to see it reflected in these complaints.”
Coppe remarked, “I don’t think it makes any difference whether it’s one person many times or one person calling once a month – a noise complaint is a noise complaint, and we should not try to figure out why they’re making them.”
Eliot reminded residents of the limits on the advisory commission’s role. “We don’t have the mechanism” to limit airport activity, he said. “We are exploring the options. We are trying to understand what can be done.”
“We have been talking about this issue for several years,” he said. “Massport is basically limited to controlling the events on the ground. Everything that happens in the air is regulated by the FAA and this commission isn’t really designed to influence or interact with the FAA.”
Boles disagreed. The FAA, he said, doesn’t require the port authority to build new facilities on “tracts of land adjacent to residential neighborhoods.”
Mike Lynch, the Federal Aviation Administration’s community relations officer for the region, noted, “We do not decide the number of flights that arrive or depart, the times, the types of aircraft. The FAA does not make the determination on where to develop land around the airport.”
Inside the perimeter, he continued, development has to be for “aviation purposes.” Boles replied that could mean a perimeter road, so ground traffic would avoid residential neighborhoods. That choice “would be up to the airport authority,” Lynch said.
Hirsch remarked that much of the air traffic is “dependent on the economic development of the area. Most of the planes coming in are people on business, and with the pandemic less people want to travel commercial. They are going to be chartering aircraft and flying into Bedford. There has to be space for the planes when they land, more services to provide for more planes.”
Jennifer Boles of Bedford offered a different suggestion for a way to finance lead testing at the local level. Towns contiguous to Bedford receive part of the proceeds from jet fuel sales. In Bedford, the amount exceeds $50,000 in a normal year. Maybe some of those funds could be earmarked for lead testing or other mitigation steps or studies in areas most affected by flights, she said.
Eliot encouraged residents to work with the congressional representatives to expedite delivery of lead-free fuel. Chris Boles said state legislators should be the primary avenue for action, as Massport is a state entity.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763