FAA considers new Runway 27 plan

David Taber

A new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposal for airplanes departing to the southwest from Logan International Airport could increase noise and undermine the possibility of input from affected communities, according to JP’s representative on the Logan Airport Community Advisory Council (CAC).

The proposed plan is to “fan” airplanes departing from runways 27 and 33L. It would mean pilots would be able to depart from runway 27 at anywhere from approximately 270 degrees, which would send them flying just north of Boylston Street heading out of Kenmore Square, to 235 degrees, down the Southwest Corridor toward Forest Hills Station, said Anastasia Lyman, JP’s representative on the CAC.

The proposal is part of phase two of an overflight noise abatement study for communities surrounding Logan Airport being undertaken by the FAA, in consultation with the CAC. Phase two of the study specifically considers measures that would require environmental impact assessments because of their potential noise impact.

Brian Glasscock, head of the City of Boston’s Environment Department, said, as he understands it, the FAA will not move forward with any plan the CAC does not approve. Various city staff members, including a representative from the Mayor’s Office, are tracking the progress of the CAC, Glasscock said.

A successful lawsuit brought in the 1980s by a group made up of representatives of southern Boston communities known as the Runway 27 Coalition, which Lyman is founding a member of, resulted in the limiting of planes departing from runway 27 to a path at 235 degrees. That flight path fans out to be a little more than a mile wide above the Forest Hills Cemetery.

Pilots stick to this path 68 percent of the time, Glasscock said.

Years ago, Lyman said, the Runway 27 Coalition advocated for, “an equitable, alternating-heading-on-alternating-days distribution of traffic off the runway,” according to a history of the coalition written by various coalition members, including Lyman.

That proposal was rejected because it would have created too much work for air traffic controllers, Lyman said. “They looked at it and said, ‘No way.’ It would be too much work to one day be directing planes to fly at 265 degrees and the next day at 235 degrees,” Lyman said.

The FAA fanning proposal is described as a “measure to provide respite for close-in communities in departure areas [of runways 27 and 33L].”

It is unclear what communities the proposal is considering, and, while an FAA spokesperson said the study is not complete, the FAA did not respond to specific questions posed by the Gazette by press time.

Another proposal on the table, Glasscock said, is a preferential runway assignment system, which would strive to rotate which runways are getting the most use from day to day, “so no one neighborhood will experience days and days of airplane noise.”

“If it works, that should provide some measure of oversight,” Glascock said.

Of fanning, Lyman said it is a “proposal by the FAA and a gift to themselves.”

Giving pilots a wider array of options would dramatically increase capacity on the runways in question, she said, claiming FAA representatives did not dispute this point at the meeting.

According to the national Bureau of Transportation Statistics, between January and June, Logan ranked 22nd out of 32 major US airports for on time departures, with 73.28 percent of planes leaving on time, down from 77.58 during the same period last year. During the same time, departure delays caused by volume rose from 5.49 percent of delays to 12.82 percent.

Massport spokesperson Richard Walsh said Logan experiences few departure delays when the weather is good, and most are attributable to either bad weather or congestion in national air traffic systems.

Regardless, the proposal would remove any avenue for community oversight, Lyman said. “It’s allowing the pilots to fly anywhere they wish. They could all follow the same course or smear out over the whole area.”

Glasscock said the point of the study is to look at “a broad range of options,” and the study will likely take years to complete.

No proposals are even under study yet, he said.

“[The mayor] wants a plan that provides the largest amount of relief for the greatest number of people,” Glasscock said.

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