Just Like JWA:Congressman Capuano Urges FAA to Shift Flight Paths Over the Water at Logan

February 21, 2018
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Last week U.S. Congressman wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) urging them to take the same action at Logan International Airport in East Boston as the agency took recently in California.

Earlier this year the FAA reached an agreement with two California cities–Laguna Beach and Newport Beach–about flight paths that commercial jets will follow out of John Wayne Airport (JWA).  There the FAA agreed to move JWA’s departure paths so jet aircraft would fly directly out over the ocean rather than over residential areas.

“I am compelled to note that the basis of the JWA agreement- that is moving air traffic quickly and adroitly over the water and away from residential areas – has been an ongoing question for Boston Logan International Airport as well,” wrote Capuano in his letter to the FAA. “As well given that FAA has signed the JWA agreements without the benefit of first conducting a study, I must ask the question-can the FAA make a similar directive for Logan’s runway use? That is, can the FAA direct air traffic must use runways that have a water-only approach or, at least, put air traffic over the Harbor as soon as possible after take-off and keep air traffic over water for as long as possible before landing?”

In a phone interview with the East Boston Times Friday, Capuano said airlines like JetBlue have already implemented takeoffs over water at Logan, and he hopes a directive from the FAA would force more airlines to follow suit.

“Obviously safety must come first and that has to be the FAA and Massport’s top priority,” said Capuano. “With that said, unless there is some specific safety or tactical reason for not taking off over the water I think it is time to start exploring that option. There are going to be times when Logan will have no choice but to takeoff over Eagle Hill, but all I’ve ever asked for from the FAA is to work with me and the community to minimize quality-of-life impacts as much as possible.”

Capuano said both the current FAA and Massport administrations have been more corporative in listening to the needs of the community and trying to adjust accordingly to lessen airport related impacts.

“For the past two years they have been more corporative,” said Capuano. “I have to say that Massport’s CEO Thomas Glynn has been engaged and is trying to help. I think a lot of it has to do with more communities joining in and a growing chorus from residents in places like Chelsea, Milton and Somerville as well as groups like the Quiet Sky Coalition has helped. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the noise pollution from Logan is not just isolated to East Boston or South Boston. Look, at my house in Somerville I can hear the planes when they depart from Runway 15/33, not as much as Eagle Hill or Chelsea residents, but the noise is there.”

Capuano added that he’s not looking for a shift in flight paths that currently impact one area.

“Taking off over the ocean is the best approach in my opinion,” said Capuano. “The problem with shifting flight paths, say from Southie or Milton, to another area is that you are only shifting the problem and its impacts from one residential area to the next and it solves nothing.”

Capuano said that Massport and the FAA are currently connecting a joint study to test ways to lessen the impact of air traffic on residents living under flight paths. The study is being led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor John Hansman.

“I have terrific respect for Professor Hansman and his team and I appreciate Massport and FAA’s partnership in trying to find real solutions to air traffic noise,” said Capuano. “I just hope the FAA is willing to do something, like in California, before the study is completed.”

In 2014, the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing’s Environmental Youth Crew conducted a study on sleep interruptions after the FAA canceled ‘Head to Head’ operations at Logan.  Head to Head Operation is when air traffic controllers send a departing flight over the water on take off while arriving flights are landed on the same runway from the opposite direction. This method had been used for years at Logan to cut down operational noise during the nighttime hours because landings tend to be a lot quieter than takeoffs. At Logan Head to Head operations were a noise abetment procedure that Massport and the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) worked on and the FAA agreed to over a decade ago. Head to Head operations became a 13-year noise abatement process, originally first promised in 2002, and was widely successful in curbing nighttime noise.

The NOAH Youth Crew found the onslaught of night time airplane flights over the community after the cancellation of Head to Head operations had created a new and serious public health threat–sleep fragmentation.

The Youth Crew went out into the community and talked to 445 people about the late night noise. Their study asked residents in six different areas in relation to the flight path of runway 15/33, which is the one used most often for night time take-offs, whether they had heard late night airplane noise after midnight and whether the sleep of anyone in their household had been interrupted because of it.

The Sleep Interruption Map released by the Youth Crew showed reported sleep interruption of as much as 48 percent under the flight path in Eagle Hill and Star of the Sea neighborhoods. There is a consistent pattern spreading out in every direction. The study found reported sleep interruption of 36 percent in central Chelsea–also directly under the flight path but further away– and 24 percent, 22 percent and 18 percent respectively, in central Eagle Hill, Orient Heights and Maverick study areas adjacent to the flight path.

In November of that year, Massport went to bat for the community and began pressuring the FAA to reinstate Head to Head operations at Logan. After pressure from Massport and the Youth Crew, Logan became the first airport in the nation to reinstate Head to Head operations.

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