Progress on Airplane Noise

Constituents in Belmont and Watertown have been concerned about increased Logan overflights over the past couple of years. I’ve given this issue a lot of attention, but ultimately, it is a federal issue and our Congressional delegation has had to take the lead on it.

As a result of efforts by our Congressional delegation (as well as efforts by our great representative to the Citizens Advisory Committee, Myron Kassaraba, and the persistence of Representative Hecht), the FAA and MassPort have entered into an agreement to look at approaches to noise reduction.

According to MassPort’s Press Release the following are possible areas for study:

  • Using higher altitudes for arrivals and departures where applicable, which could have benefits throughout the metro region.
  • Looking at the feasibility of reducing the persistent level of noise from RNAV departures through a case study analysis of a major departure procedure from Runway 33L, which would benefit communities west of Logan Airport, including Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge and Watertown. If successful, this idea could reduce the persistent noise for some residents.
  • RNAV separation requirements – Currently departure and arrival procedures require a separation of three miles for head-to-head operations. This suggested study would maintain the safety requirement, but examine how to incorporate a greater number of over-water operations. The proposed area of study will look at maintaining the three-mile separation between the arrival stream on Runway 27 and the departure stream from Runways 22R/22L, which makes a sharp left turn as aircraft depart and fly over Boston Harbor. This procedure could produce benefits for South Boston and Hull.
  • Accelerate adoption of RNAV special procedures. Airlines can and do propose RNAV special procedures. Currently, other air carriers cannot always easily adopt the approved RNAV special procedures that are made available for “public” use. At Boston Logan for example, JetBlue proposed a late night RNAV special procedure for Runway 33L arrivals that would provide noise benefits by having aircraft fly an initial visual approach to avoid going over land wherever possible. Massport will work with FAA air traffic controllers and the airlines to increase use. This effort is already underway and could benefit the South Shore and Hull.
  • Analyze alternative RNAV designs that would bring aircraft over more compatible land use. At Boston Logan, the test case will examine Runway 4R Arrivals, looking at the feasibility of a curved approach, for example, such as along the Southeast Expressway or Boston’s inner harbor. Neighborhoods that could benefit are parts of Milton and Dorchester.
  • In order to improve data collection for communities and the FAA, use real-world single-event noise data from communities under RNAV tracks to develop a supplemental metric to measure and track the concentration of flights due to RNAV technology. These metrics would better identify the potential for community understanding, support or opposition to proposed procedural changes. The proposed pilot testing will use these supplemental metrics.

No one should expect immediate or radical improvements, but the eventual progress may be meaningful and I’m grateful to all who contributed to this progress.

Update re November 18 Meeting with FAA

Last Friday, senior officials of the Federal Aviation Administration met with members of the 33L municipal working group.

The 33L municipal working group is an informal group of state and local officials concerned about the noise levels along the departure paths of planes leaving Logan runway 33L — Medford, Somerville, Cambridge, Belmont, Arlington, Watertown, Winchester. Myron Kassaraba of Belmont and Representative Jon Hecht of Watertown were instrumental in assembling this group. The meeting was a direct response to a letter authored by Representative Hecht and signed by state and local officials in the group. The meeting was also the result of broader advocacy by our congressional delegation — Congresswoman Clark attended the meeting and Congressman Capuano and both of our U.S. Senators, Markey and Warren, were represented by staff at the meeting.

On the FAA side, the meeting included not only the regional administrator of the FAA, but the national FAA official with overall responsibility for environment and policy and the FAA’s director of Air Traffic Control facilities. The FAA officials had three positive messages for the group:

  1. While, in the past, FAA leadership took a legalistic approach to community input — essentially doing the bare minimum of public outreach required by law — the current FAA director has set a new direction, encouraging all FAA officials to be much more proactive about reaching out to communities and getting input on proposed changes.
  2. The FAA does understand that the new RNAV procedure creates community impacts that are not well measured by its existing 65DNL noise standard. The FAA takes pride in the fact that over the past few decades the number of people nationwide with noise exposure above 65DNL has dropped from 7 million to a few hundred thousand despite a tripling of national passenger volume and a lot of residential development near airports. Planes have gotten much quieter over the past few decades. However, the FAA has now also recognized what they call the “rail effect” whereby certain neighborhoods experience an uncomfortably high volume of overflights along the new RNAV paths. They are engaging in a national study to consider alternative noise metrics which would better identify the kind of problems faced by communities along these paths (like the communities in the working group — see Myron Kassaraba’s presentation on that here).
  3. In addition, the FAA is using the case of runway 33L as a prototype for how to reduce rail effect noise. MassPort has contracted with an expert at MIT to review the 33L procedure as part of the previously announced RNAV Study. The study will explore possible options for reducing noise. The FAA officials cautioned that each airport has unique features and problems and it may or may not be feasible to alter 33L procedures in a way that reduces the rail effect. Their top priority is safety and keeping procedures simple is a critical part of keeping the procedures safe. However, they made clear that they will carefully evaluate suggestions emerging from the review and will implement them if they are feasible.

Representatives Hecht and Rogers and the other state and local officials present emphasized the unfairness of the current pattern which channels so much of the noise on to particular neighborhoods and encouraged the FAA to stay engaged with communities as the process moves forward.

The 33L study will take a year or so and review and implementation of any feasible recommendations will take additional time. The meeting was positive and everyone acknowledges the problem, but change, if possible at all, may not come for several years.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

18 replies on “Progress on Airplane Noise”

  1. Winthrop and East Boston have had noise mitigation in the form of new windows and doors that provide additional noise reduction. Although this might not work to abate summer noise, something on this order might help for the other seasons as many of the flights over our house seem to be late night and early morning, very early and very late.

  2. We are I think not far away from confronting a number of problems arising from drones, from noise to advertising banners to surveillance, etc. There will be others.

  3. Thank you! The planes have been flying over after 11pm many nights, and starting before dawn, which is highly annoying. We’re glad to hear about this initiative.

  4. Hi Will,
    Please note the date of my below letter to the Massport Director, the Speaker of The House, and the similarities between then and now. This past year Massport began allowing China bound airlines to depart at 2:30 am. Why is that necessary? Thanks for your attention to this and good luck.
    David Benoit

    August 31, 2008
    Subject: Logan Airport Noise and Dangerous Exhaust
    I really hope you can appreciate how important these proposals to changes in airport procedures can be. I feel strongly that a few minor procedures would greatly improve our quality of life, without disruption to airport operations. As you also well know, unnecessary airport noise depreciates the value of towns and homes. I suggest the following:
    1. Whenever safely possible, and especially between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., all planes taking off and landing, especially taking off, shall use the runway which runs southeast over Boston Harbor. If this is not possible, take offs and landings shall be staggered in directions so as not to overwhelm one particular community.
    2. Except in life or death emergencies, takeoff and landing fees for airlines using Logan between the hours of 11:00 p.m. 7:00 a.m., should be increased almost prohibitively, to deter use which causes quality of life and depreciation issues with surrounding communities.
    3. All aircraft shall, as safely as possible, perform a maximum safe climb rate, (M.S.C.R.) when taking off from Logan Airport, for the purposes of reducing unnecessary low altitude flight noise, and giving the jet exhaust fumes more time to disperse before coming in contact with populated areas below a flight path.
    Your attention to the above issues would be greatly appreciated.
    David C. Benoit

    1. Great to hear on this progress but I must agree with the sentiments of David with regard to later night flights(especially after March and before Nov when windows are open again). I have been woken multiple times in the middle of the night(not a light sleeper:>) via an airplane(which had never occurred prior to the new runway). I did write a complaint which stated it was within the legal limits…which is why this news is hopeful. Thanks for keeping the dialog going!

  5. Mille Grazie, Will for making this effort. I usually turn off my hearing aids when I’m outdoors and the planes are flying over my neighborhood.
    Anne CG

  6. Good to hear about progress, Will. It is very wearing to report concerns and experience noise pollution for so long. Loud planes came through at midnight last night, and are going overhead as I write this (after 11pm, every 2 min), and they often start before 7am. I appreciate your, and Rep Hecht’s and others’ diligent efforts on this issue.

  7. Thank you, Will, for looking into this issue of plane noise. It was very pretty bad at times in Belmont with planes flying overhead every few minutes. It’s great to hear that efforts are underway to deal with this irritation.

  8. Thanks for the update, Will, I hope it eventually results in a reduction in the sleep-disrupting flights, especially after 11:00 pm. and before 7:00 a.m. (or even after midnight or before 6:00 a.m. sometimes). They often make me think of those low-flying planes out of Hanscom right after 9/11 grounded commercial flights. Not a soothing reminder…

  9. Wonderful! Please keep up the good work. Between this noise and the blight of leaf-blowers and other industrial noise in cities, the World Health Organization remains concerned about the terrible mental health effects (often leading to physical illness) these disturbances have on more and more of the population. A depressed, ill population won’t function well at work, will miss more work, will add to healthcare costs, and is more likely to consume more tranquilizers and alcohol in desperate attempts to relax.

    All your efforts then are so very worthwhile!

    Susan Cooke
    Writer on stress in cities

  10. Thanks, as always, for your work on this issue. A plane is flying over as I write this. As others note below, the planes that fly over us after 11, every three or four minutes, or in the middle of the night–sometimes up until 4:15 AM–are disturbing sleep patterns. When I was in D.C. this fall, I was reminded that no planes fly in or out after 11 PM. Studies have shown that constant noise is bad for our health, so I hope that is a consideration as the study continues

  11. Nonetheless, this is huge progress from where we were a year ago, thanks to Myron Kassaraba and Jon Hecht’s relentless efforts as well as the Boston West Fair Skies Working Group. Thanks to you too for bringing this issue to the fore and for your representation.
    Nayla Rathle

  12. Thank you for helping to follow and drive this issue. It isn’t just Watertown and Belmont residence that care. I live in North Cambridge and have met you a few times. It is bad for us as well.

  13. Thank you, Will, Myron and all who helped us get to this point. We appreciate Jon Hecht’s efforts as well, he has been a steady supporter of our cause since the onset of 33L RNAV in June 2013.

    I also wish to express our gratitude to you on behalf of our citizens grassroots coalition Boston West Fair Skies (BWFS). Our advocacy helped push this problem to the top of the FAA’s list but without your support our voices might have not been heard.

    We will keep the pressure on and continue to convey to Massport, the FAA and all the elected officials that what we go through on a daily (nightly) basis is inhumane and not sustainable in the long run.

    Also, that we will not be forced out of our homes and communities by NextGen.

    Thank you.
    Adriana Poole, Belmont
    Boston West Fair Skies chair

Comments are closed.