MassPort Contingent Tells Residents of One-of-a-Kind Study

By Seth Daniel

There were few answers given by MassPort for residents regarding early morning jet noise, but residents at the South End Forum did learn about an innovative study being conducted right now with MIT and MassPort.

The meeting with MassPort community officials has been long in the making, and follows a similar meeting with Congressman Michael Capuano earlier this year. The crux of the problem in the South End is early morning (5 a.m.) flights coming off of Runway 27 and seemingly venturing further and further over the South End.

Moderator Steve Fox said many have experienced what they believe to be a major increase in early morning jet noise over the last three or four years.

“Everyone in the South End understands we are in close proximity to the airport; we get that,” he said. “The reason we have invited you here is because of the increased recent phenomena of earlier and earlier departures over the South End. We’re willing to do our part. No one cares about 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. flights so much. It’s 5 a.m. that’s a problem.”

That was followed by applause from the large crowd who had come out to learn why this is happening.

Flavio Leo of MassPort explained that when the winds are out of the northwest, the Runway 27 is used for departures. He said there is an entire configuration of runways used for departures and arrivals that are based upon the wind patterns.

He said that because Boston is a destination airport, with about 90 percent of flights starting or ending here – as opposed to Atlanta that is a connector airport – there is a bigger push in the morning and evening for takeoffs and landings.

“The schedule is determined by airlines, and this is a lot of what people are feeling,” he said. “For Runway 27, only 6 percent of all jet activity – takeoffs and landings – goes off of there.”

He indicated that there is no indications that there is any new jet traffic or any new patterns that support what people are experiencing.

One thing that has changed is the electronic navigation system that was implemented a few years ago, called RNAV. That system helps planes to be more efficient by pinpointing their travel paths and elevations. However, it also means anyone underneath the pinpointed flight paths hears plane after plane after plane with no variation.

Leo and Tommy Butler of MassPort said there is an innovative study being conducted right now at MassPort on the RNAV system and on how to make planes quieter. That study is looking at Runway 27, as well as others.

“This is the only study like this going on in the country right now,” said Butler. “There are public meetings going on and this is one way you can get involved in a solution.”

Leo said MassPort signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with federal elected officials to work with MIT on the study.

“The jet engines are a lot quieter and a lot cleaner than they used to be,” he said. “A lot of times they are so quiet that the noise you hear is the noise from the aircraft passing through the air. MIT is working right now on this study to try to find out a way for aircraft to fly and make less noise. They are working with the airlines to adjust the speed of the aircraft. That will reduce the noise of the aircraft. Runway 27 and 33 Left are part of that.”

Many residents at the Forum seemed resolved to the noise situation, and did learn that increased noise this summer was due to a major construction project on a runway – forcing them to re-route many planes over areas that aren’t usually experiencing so much noise.

However, the question of what to do about the numbers of early morning flights over the South End wasn’t completely answered.

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