Community, FAA Finally Making Progress on Measuring Airplane Noise

Just when air travel has fallen by 80 percent or more, it seems the community and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are making progress on understanding how airplane noise is affecting Boston neighborhoods like the South End.

Steve Fox, the South End liaison to the MassPort CAC, said there have been a number of positive meetings between the CAC and the FAA since the pandemic began – a move that looks to lead to a new way of potentially measuring how airplane noise affects the communities underneath.

“We have really begun a very rigorous and sustained engagement with the FAA,” said Fox. “I would say 70 percent of the meetings were with FAA representatives, both locally and from Washington, D.C. The good news from a resident perspective is we seem engaged in a dialog with them about noise, where before we were talking to MassPort and they didn’t control that at all.”

He said there have been good conversations with the FAA regarding the way noise in monitored using the DNS Standard. That standard averages noise, day and night, over a seven day period and looks at the aggregate.

However, Fox said in the South End, it’s the intensity of the noise that matters. On Runway 27, which goes over the South End, flights tend to use a computerized navigation system (called R-NAV) that places one flight in the same path every two minutes for hours at a time – many times beginning at 5:30 a.m. That only shows up as a blip in the data with the DNS system, and doesn’t account for how crazy it makes those on the ground when planes blast over one after another at an early hour.

“It doesn’t account for intensity and the kind of sustained activity that would be created with an R-NAV system, where every flight goes over the same path every 10 seconds for hours,” he said. “That produces a more intense reaction for people affected than a measure of decibels over a seven-day average.”

He said the FAA is listening and trying to understand how they can account for this, though one problem is the agency wants to have a one-size-fits-all answer to measure every airport in the country. That creates a problem for an urban airport like Boston, whereby many major cities locate their airports further from the city’s center.

He said the next step is to make sure the federal delegation understands the issue and provides advocacy to institute a way to measure intensity under the flight path, rather than the seven-day average of noise levels.

“What we’re doing right now is setting the stage for how the Boston delegation can put Runway 27 significantly on the agenda for consideration,” he said.

In other airport news, Fox said that because of the low levels of air travel, MassPort has decided to move up the Runway 27 reconstruction, which was planned for later in the year. That work began last week, and is expected to take 73 days.

It creates some respite for those under the flight path in the South End because few planes will be going over the neighborhood in that time period. However, Fox said, the losing proposition there is air travel is so low that there probably wouldn’t be many planes coming over anyhow.

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