Update on Logan Runway Use Plan Test and Airplane Noise

There have been several events recently regarding the increased airplane noise experienced by Belmont and Watertown residents (as well as parts of Arlington and Cambridge) as a result of the runway 33L RNAV departure procedures implemented by the FAA in June of 2013.

1. Runway Use Plan Test – for the past year, the Logan Community Advisory Committee (CAC) has been working with the FAA and Massport to devise a new Runway Use Policy for Logan. Starting on or about November 12th, 2014, the FAA will be conducting a test of this Runway Use Plan for a period of 3-6 months. You can read the full Media Release here. In summary – the Runway Use Plan provides guidelines for the FAA Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) at Logan to make adjustments to which runways are used from day-to-day, morning-hours to evening hours. The objective is, weather permitting, to switch which runway configurations are used from one time period to the next to try to provide some relief from constant or repetitive use of a particular configuration. Some of you may have noticed that runway 33L, which is used for departures when there is a NW wind, can sometimes be used for what seems like several days in a row – especially after a low pressure system blows through. In some cases, if the wind is above a certain strength, it is not possible to use a different runway (planes need to take off into the wind). The plan says that, if it is possible, the runway configuration used from 8:30 pm-Midnight would ideally not be used the next day from 6 am to 9:30 am. A different runway use plan is already used for the Midnight-to-6am overnight period. What the FAA hopes to test with their trial of the Runway Use Plan is if this can be administered by ATC and if it will provide some relief to the continuous use of a specific runway configuration. What this Plan will not do: it will have no effect whatsoever on the flight paths and altitudes used by planes landing or departing using a specific runway. It will also not affect the frequency of planes when a particular runway configuration is in use. It will also likely not have an appreciable impact on how frequently a particular runway configuration is used over the course of a month or year. So the net for those who are concerned about the increase in noise from runway 33L RNAV is that this is not intended to, nor will it address, the concentrated RNAV flight paths from 33L departures which have caused the increased flight traffic over Belmont and Watertown.

2. As Senator Brownsberger reported previously in his post from a few weeks ago , Congresswoman Katherine Clark, who has been very active and supportive of questioning the FAA about the effects changes such as 33L RNAV have had on communities in her district, has joined with 11 other US House Members to form the Quiet Skies Caucus. The reason this is significant is the control of the flight paths once an aircraft has left the runway at Logan belongs 100% to the Federal Aviation Administration. This is the Federal Agency chartered by Congress to manage our air traffic network. For those of you who have been following this issue and the efforts of the Belmont Selectmen, Belmont CAC Representatives, Senator Brownsberger, Representatives Hecht and Rogers to find a way to see if there is any way to get relief – all roads lead back to the FAA. We have written letters to the Regional head of the FAA, requested an expanded post-implementation review, held several meetings with Massport, requested a noise study and the answer has been the same – the FAA feels as though they followed the rules and regulations governing the decision to implement 33L RNAV and they plan to continue to use those flight paths. The six month post-implementation review confirmed that the planes were flying the routes as expected and despite our requests, they did not take into consideration the huge increase in noise complaints or community objections in their review. Congresswoman Clark and her staff have been actively engaged with this issue and she herself met with FAA representatives in Washington over the summer. We are not the only region in the country that has been affected by changes by the FAA such as RNAV. Since Congress appropriates the funding and sets policy for the FAA, any changes to the rules and regulations which might provide us with relief depend on action in Washington. By joining forces with Congressional Representatives from other states such as California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota and New York as well as Representative Mike Capuano (MA 7th District and Member of the Aviation Subcommittee), the Caucus can have a platform for advocating for the FAA to review their policies and work to acknowledge and address the issues with new procedures such as RNAV.

The CAC Reps from Arlington, Belmont and Watertown as well as our local representatives are working to schedule a public information meeting on this issue in the near future. Unfortunately, as Senator Brownsberger has stated in his analysis of the noise measurement data from the test Massport did in Belmont last March, – there are no easy solutions here. The levels of noise we are experiencing – though annoying and objectionable to many residents – do not rise to the thresholds considered by the FAA to be excessive. Our recommendation continues to be to file noise complaints with Massport ((617) 561-3333 or visit their online form ) as that creates a consistent pattern of resident objections to the impact of these RNAV flight paths. Also, reaching out to Congresswoman Clark and Senator Markey to express your support of their efforts to get the FAA to review how they are assessing the impact of changes such as RNAV would also be helpful.

Myron Kassaraba
Belmont Rep to the Logan CAC

8 replies on “Update on Logan Runway Use Plan Test and Airplane Noise”

  1. Myron, thank you for your good work on this issue. Hopefully, the runway use plan, by swapping paths more frequently, will give people some relief — it’s when the path is used for several days in a row that we hear the most complaints.

  2. It is certainly encouraging to hear about this new test by the FAA and I believe that the adjustment to the flight patterns will have a positive, although as Myron says fairly modest, effect on the impact of the run 33L departures on our community. I want to thank Myron and Senator Brownsberger for their efforts on this, and I also appreciate learning of Representative Clark’s and Senator Markey’s involvement.

    This change by the FAA shows that the FAA is listening and that the community involvement process can have an impact. In turn, this shows that there is real value in (and reason for optimism about) the continuing efforts by all of our representatives to resolve the more fundamental problems with the RNAV implementation in our area.

    I support these efforts and hope that through continuing pressure we will be able to find a solution to this problem.

  3. This is such a case of NIMBY. The engine noise may occasionally be quite loud, but more often than not, it is quieter
    than traffic, the sound of a train whistle, a siren, a barking dog and children’s shrieks of laughter while playing outside. These sounds are a familiar part of the fabric of urban life.

    As residents of this district, we want the convenience of smoothly flowing traffic, and quick local access to on-time air travel without contributing to its cost. I find this shameful.

  4. Thanks for all the info here.

    One aspect of this that strikes me as suspect is that the FAA make the decision as to what is considered to be ‘excessive’ noise – How can that be? The organisation that has to hold itself to a standard is the same organisation that sets the level of that standard? Really? It’s like a drug company setting the standard for the safety of a drug and not the FDA, or a car maker setting the standard for crash safety. Surely an independant body should be setting the standard for what is considered to be excessive noise in a neighborhood?

  5. I think that one of the major issues here is that the regulations regarding what is considered “excessive noise” are outdated, antiquated and inaccurate. I know a LOT about airplane noise and living with it, I used to live about one mile from the SanDiego airport. Talk about LOUD! The house would shake! It was awful, but at least the noise was not continuous, there was usually a break of at least 10 min or more between planes. Now with the RNAV system it is possible to stack planes 1 to 2 minutes, and often less than 60 seconds apart, for hour after hour. Even IF the noise from each plane is not above the official “problem level” (and it often IS) the nonstop droning rumble is is actually just as much if not more disturbing than louder planes at less frequent intervals. This is just common sense of course, but it has not yet been translated into the noise regulations. The regs need to be updated to reflect the TOTAL amount of noise that now commonly occurs with RNAV, not just noise above official threshold levels (which are WAY too high anyway!) There needs to be a limit on how many planes are allowed to fly over a given area per day, even if the planes are supposedly slightly below the official problem noise level. Over 150 planes a day is just too much at ANY noise level. Eight hours a day of constant noise is too much at ANY level. If people want to live by an airport (as I once did) then fine, but we should have a choice about it, it should not be imposed on us.

    1. You are right that the frequency of repetitive noise matters a lot to how we feel about it. To be fair, the total noise level does reflect that, but it tends to be dominated by the largest events, so relatively quieter repetitive noise — typical in our communities — doesn’t register as much.

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