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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.