South End Meets with Capuano, Will Focus in on Stopping Constant Early Morning Flights

By Seth Daniel

While the South End has been mostly quiet in the fight against jet noise, increasingly the jets up above the neighborhood have not been so mum.

With that perceived or real increase in jet noise, the South End has been moved to jump into the long-standing and complicated Greater Boston fight against jet noise produced by Logan Airport, MassPort and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The fight started last Thursday evening, Jan. 26, with Congressman Michael Capuano leading a crowded room at the South End Library in an introductory discussion, dubbed Logan Airport 101, for a good many Southenders that showed up, not to mention a healthy contingent of veteran airport fighters from other communities.

The discussion was sponsored by the South End Forum, which has now started a new interest group to begin keeping tabs on the airport fight for the South End. Moderator Steve Fox said many in the South End have, over the last two years, noticed that jet noise is more consistently and more precisely over the South End – especially with early morning flights starting at 5 a.m. that come from Runway 27.

“By continuing the buzz, we’ll continue to get action,” said Fox. “The South End has been silent on this issue for a very, very long time. Now we’re paying for our silence and we need to speak up.”

Capuano began his remarks by stating the caveat that he wouldn’t entertain any requests to re-route airplanes over some other neighborhood. He said he was only interested in making sure everyone shared the pain equally.

He said he supports a recent study announced that will be done by an MIT researcher, and he hopes to have answers from that study in about one year. He said two things he can offer Southenders is fanning of planes and dispersion of flightpaths.

He clarified that there are not more planes than in the past, saying Logan is only now recovered back to its 2008 numbers. He did say that navigation techniques using GPS pinpointing for flight paths has made those planes particularly bad for those under that pinpoint path.

“The number of planes has not dramatically changed,” he said. “What’s happened is these planes are now focused and fine tuned on a narrow path. If you live under that path, you get more planes. You already had planes, now you have more planes. When they announced they were making that change (to GPS), I didn’t think about this effect at that time…For me, it’s about fanning. Let me be clear, I don’t think it’s right to say, ‘I live under the runway and I don’t want any flights and they should go over someone else on some other runway.’ I represent all of the runways – 33, 27, 29 and others. It is about sharing the pain equally and as equitably as possible.”

He said the process of ‘fanning’ is having planes on the flight path make their turns at different times so they aren’t hitting the same homes every single flight, minute after minute going over the same people. The dispersion part is about pulling back a bit from the GPS system (known as RNAV) so that the paths are more variable and less pinpointed over one focused corridor.

The meeting lasted a little over an hour and introduced Southenders to new terms like the 1996 Record of Decision, known as the ROD, and RNAV – a device that allows pilots to pinpoint their flightpaths – as well as the ins and outs of the use of Runway 27, which bring flights over the South End, versus its counterpart Runway 33, which takes them over Somerville/Cambridge.

While some of the meeting delved into minutia not of extreme interest to the layman, and parts of the meeting became heated when Capuano and two Logan Community Advisory Committee (CAC) members squared off in a disagreement over “fanning” of flightpaths, Fox and many who came kept the meeting focused on the crux of the problem – the early flights.

“I believe ultimately it’s going to be solved with political will,” said Fox. “We’re not asking for a re-routing; we’re asking for relief from the morning creep that has gotten earlier and earlier…This is what has driven a lot of Southenders to have more concerns. Our goal is to try to find reasonable solutions to try to stop this creeping that those of us who have been here 10, 20 or 30 years know wasn’t there before and also to stop the attitude from MassPort that Logan is a 24/7 facility and it’s the way it should be.”

Ann Hershfang of the South End Seniors, who have been very vocal about airplane noise, said she wanted to know more about the MIT study, and asked that Congressman Capuano be certain to get Runway 27 on the official study list.

“I would like to have Runway 27 added to the study so that these questions we have are looked at,” she said.

John Stewart has represented the South End on the Logan CAC group since 2000, and is a wealth of experience and information about the overflights. He nearly came to blows with Capuano when he suggested that fanning was useless and had already been looked at.

However, he did agree with Capuano that the 1996 ROD was not a good document for the South End and probably needed to be renegotiated.

“The ROD has never been properly implemented over the South End and Roxbury,” he said. “There should not be one jet coming over the South End or Roxbury. They’re all supposed to turn at the highway…We debated it year after year after year with them. They were complying. Then they went off it again. Now they won’t talk about it…There is a reason there is an ROD for Runway 27.”

Capuano didn’t mince any words about his opinion of the ROD.

“I have always disliked the ROD,” he said. “It was a bunch of rich white people making darn sure planes didn’t come over their houses. I don’t blame them, but it’s not right. It’s got to be about shared pain. I believe it was a travesty of social and economic justice. The flight path was picked to go over poor people and people of color. I’m being blunt about it…That’s my belief.”

Beyond that, Capuano said the focus of the group and its goals for the South End – that being early flights – were impressive and reasonable. He left saying he was ready to work with the new interest group as it had reasonable goals.

“I have had a lot of meetings about the airport in my time,” he said. “This is the most focused group. If I came in and you said you didn’t want any flights, I couldn’t have helped you. When you ask for a reasonable thing on early morning flights, it is a goal more attainable. I didn’t know what to expect when I came in here tonight, but this is great.”

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