Airport Activity Monitor

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Airport Operations:  How runway operations at Hanscom impact airport noise

  Hanscom Field is the region’s premier full-service general aviation airport, and it plays a critical role in New England’s regional aviation system as a corporate reliever for Logan International Airport.  Hanscom Field operates 24 hours per day 365 days per year.  Runway use is the primary factor in determining which flight paths are used as aircraft arrive and depart the airport, and weather is the primary factor in determining which runway is used.  Hanscom has two runways.

Airfield Layout:  Two intersecting runways provide aircraft with four runway approach options.  Runway 11-29 is 7,011 feet long, lies east-west and is the primary runway.  Runway 5-23 is 5,107 feet long, lies northeast-southwest and is the secondary, crosswind runway. 

How Runways are Used:  Optimal aircraft performance is achieved when an aircraft lands or departs into the wind.  The FAA assigns runways for all flights based primarily on the wind. Other criteria that factor into the decision are ceilings and/or visibility, arrival and departure flight paths, air traffic in the area, and a pilot’s request.  Pilot requests are generally based on the FAA’s recommendation, wind direction, runway length, aircraft performance, and destination/approach location.  Sometimes a runway is closed for maintenance, snow removal, etc.

Runway Use and the Communities:  Runway 11-29 lies east-west, with Lexington to the east of the airport and Concord to the west.  If the 11 end is being used for arrivals, the aircraft make their final approach over Concord, while departures fan out over Lexington.  If the 29 end is being used for arrivals, the aircraft make their final approach over Lexington, while departures fan out over Concord.

Runway 5-23 lies northeast-southwest, with Bedford north of the airport and Lincoln south of the airport.  If the 23 end is being used for arrivals, the final approach is over Bedford, while departures fan out over Lincoln.  If the 5 end is being used for arrivals, the final approach is over Lincoln, while departures fan out over Bedford. 

Statistically, Runway 11-29 is used more frequently than Runway 5-23.  Shifts in runway use patterns can create the perception of increases or decreases in traffic at a particular location. 

Flight Operations:  How flight operations at Hanscom affect airport noise.

Introduction:  Runway use, flight tracks, flying techniques, aircraft type, and frequency of operations are the major contributors to the noise experience in the communities. 

FAA and Massport Responsibilities:  The FAA regulates air traffic, including altitude. Its primary responsibilities are safety and efficiency.  FAA air traffic personnel and pilots coordinate to determine runway use and flight path(s) for a particular flight.  Massport encourages flying techniques that minimize aircraft noise of arrivals and departures. View noise abatement recommendations.

The federal government regulates the manufacture and use of aircraft.  Some aircraft inherently make more noise than others, but technology continues to improve the noise performance of new airplanes.  Since 1969, federal legislation has periodically required more stringent noise standards for new aircraft and has phased out use of some of the oldest, noisiest aircraft nationally, unless retrofitted with hush kits.  (See MORE on FEDERAL REGS below)

Massport adopted regulations in 1980 for Hanscom, which included a phase out aircraft operations by some of the noisiest aircraft and a fee to discourage use of the airport during the nighttime hours. 

MORE on FEDERAL REGS:  The FAA first issued noise standards for civil aircraft in 1969, when regulations established that minimum noise performance levels be demonstrated for new turbojet and transport category large airplane designs. 

Over the years, the FAA has also adopted regulations that phase out the use of Stage 1 and 2 aircraft weighing more than 75,000 pounds.   In 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which includes the phase out of all Stage 2 aircraft.  All aircraft will be required to comply with Stage 3 noise levels by December 31, 2015.

Flight Tracks:  The FAA regulates air traffic, including altitude.  Its primary responsibilities are safety and efficiency. 

An aircraft being flown using Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) must follow instructions given by the FAA for the particular flight. During instrument meteorological conditions, aircraft must approach the airport using the instrument approach system that is available for the runway being used.  Instrument approaches are designed to provide lateral and vertical guidance to the runway threshold, while FAA air traffic controllers ensure appropriate aircraft spacing.  Aircraft executing a full instrument approach are vectored to a point on the final approach.

During visual meteorological conditions, aircraft may be authorized to fly a visual approach to the airport.  When that happens, the pilot navigates on his/her own to the runway and spaces his/her aircraft to follow traffic as dictated by controllers in the airport traffic control tower.

Visual Flight Rule (VFR) traffic generates fluid flight patterns at Hanscom.  If an aircraft is being flown VFR, the pilot must communicate with the FAA tower when in controlled airspace, but the pilot has more flexibility than when flying IFR.  Both IFR and VFR departures tend to fan out from the end of the runway. 

Surveillance Radar: Historically air traffic controllers have relied on radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) for aircraft surveillance.  Radar has been upgraded through the years, but is still relatively expensive and has limitations, including line-of-site only surveillance and accuracy decreases with distance.   The terminal radar at Logan International Airport (BOS) is the closest to Hanscom Field (BED) and provides the best surveillance due to its proximity.  View more information about Surveillance Radar.

Overflights:  Routinely there are non-Hanscom related flights that fly over the Hanscom area.  These may be Logan flights, or aircraft that may be flying between two other airports.

Ground Noise:  The contribution of ground noise to overall airport noise.

Introduction:  There are several operations that result in ground noise generated by aircraft:  the reverse thrust utilized by an aircraft to slow its speed at touch down, the run-up conducted as part of a maintenance check, the run-up of an aircraft just prior to departure, the sound generated by an aircraft taxiing or waiting to depart, and the noise of a ground power unit (GPU) or auxiliary power unit (APU) used to power a parked aircraft.

Engine Run-up:  When maintenance has been performed on an aircraft, it may be necessary to perform a final test of the engine(s) at full power.  Hanscom has a run-up pad a little west of the center of the field.  During the run-up, the aircraft faces west.  The engines are usually run at full power for about five minutes, and this can be repeated several times.  The run-up pad has deflectors that direct the exhaust upward.  Massport discourages maintenance run-ups between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Small aircraft also conduct a flight check prior to departure, which includes a brief run-up.

APUs and GPUs:  APUs and GPUs provide power for a parked aircraft.  They are generally used in close proximity to a hangar or the terminal when an aircraft is being prepared for a flight.  Massport’s regulations restrict use of an APU or GPU to 30 minutes at Hanscom.

Taxiing:  Aircraft must taxi to and from the runway.  On occasion an aircraft will need to wait to take off.  This is most likely to happen first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon or evening on weekdays. 

Fleet Mix:  How the various aircraft types impact airport noise

Introduction:  Hanscom serves a full range of aircraft categories:  jets, turboprops, twin engine pistons, single engine pistons and helicopters.  There is both civilian and military activity conducted in these aircraft.

Aircraft Types:  Each aircraft type within an aircraft category has distinctive noise characteristics.  This is particularly relevant for the many different jets that use Hanscom, including military fighter jets, Boeing 737s, Learjets and small Citation jets. 

Jets dominate the noise levels at Hanscom.  However, activity by some of the noisiest jets has been decreasing in recent years.  View Annual Noise Report.

Types of Operations:  Massport operates Hanscom Field as a premier general aviation (GA) airport with limited commercial service.  On the civilian side, the airport has historically accommodated corporate aviation, private flying, charter, air taxi, pilot training, as well as scheduled commuter airline service and limited cargo operations.

Hanscom’s flight schools train pilots in piston engine aircraft.  When a pilot is learning to land and depart, the training includes touch-and-goes.  This is when the aircraft is brought in for a landing and continues down the runway to depart again without stopping.  Usually touch-and-goes are conducted numerous times during a practice session, with the aircraft circling close to the airport between each landing.

Military operations represent less than one percent of the activity, but contribute 10 to 20 percent of the noise exposure.  They include operations in all the aircraft types.  Military aircraft are not subject Massport’s noise restrictions, and the current federal noise-related regulations only apply to civilian aircraft.

Roles and Responsibilities:  Overview of the roles of various constituencies

Introduction:  There are many players in the world of aircraft noise.  These include the FAA, Massport, civilian pilots and military pilots. 

The FAA:  The FAA regulates air traffic control, including altitude.  Its primary focus is safety and efficiency.  The federal government legislates requirements for the manufacturing of new aircraft and the phase out of the older aircraft that exceed certain noise thresholds.

Massport:  Massport’s noise abatement office is diligent in enforcing Hanscom’s 1980 regulations and in fostering the airport’s “fly friendly” program.  The latter encourages Hanscom pilots to use quiet flying techniques. Although a particular aircraft may sound noisy to a person on the ground, the aircraft noise could be more offensive if the pilot didn’t use quiet flying techniques. In 2009, Massport introduced a program to minimize touch and go flights over the Minute Man National Historical Park.  The program has been very successful, with reductions of flights over the Park from 6% to 29% in the two years since the program began.

Airlines and Pilots:  Massport is actively creating an airport that fosters responsible piloting. Although safety and security are the highest priorities, pilots at Hanscom are encouraged to use quiet flying techniques.  Material regarding the program is available at the flight schools, the Fixed Base Operators, in the Massport offices and on the web.  Additionally, Hanscom tenants who are pilots are requested to watch a Fly Friendly video when they are badged in the Massport offices.

Military:  Military aircraft range from helicopters to jets.  Some of the military jets have high noise profiles.  Although, military operations represent less than one percent of the activity, they contribute 10 to 20 percent of the noise. Massport shares its fly friendly material with military personnel.  Hanscom Air Force Base has its own community affairs office, and complaints regarding military aircraft should be directed to 781-225-1611.

Tenants:  Tenants are asked to use and/or encourage the Fly Friendly program.  The Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) display fly friendly material, as do the flight schools.  Transient aircraft pilots who are visiting Hanscom can get information regarding the 1980 regulations and the Fly Friendly program from the FBOs.

Rules and Regulations:  Overview of Hanscom’s Rules and Regulations

Introduction:  In 1980, Massport adopted regulations that address some of the noise issues at Hanscom.  In 1999, Massport adopted a fly friendly program at Hanscom that encourages pilots to use quiet flying techniques.

Noise Rules (or 1980 Massport Regulations): The Hanscom-related regulations adopted in 1980 have five major components:  1)  A fee applies to aircraft operations between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.; 2) Air carrier services will not be performed in an aircraft with a seating capacity of greater than sixty seats; 3) Touch-and-go operations are not permitted between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.; 4) Touch-and-go operations are not permitted at any time by aircraft exceeding 12,500 pounds; 5) APUs and GPUs can only be used for 30 minutes; and there are additional limitations on APU and GPU use between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.  Additionally, the regulations phased out the use of most Stage 1 aircraft at Hanscom. 

Arrival and Departure Procedures:  Overview of Hanscom’s voluntary noise reduction procedures

Introduction:  First and foremost, Massport recommends that pilots observe all airspeed limitations and Air Traffic Control instructions.  Use of quiet flying techniques is voluntary. In 1999, Massport reaffirmed its support of the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) noise abatement procedures for turbine aircraft.  Also in 1999, Massport adopted the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA’s) quiet flying recommendations for piston aircraft and worked with local pilots to identify quiet flying techniques for helicopters. 

Quiet Flying Techniques:  The NBAA recommends quiet flying techniques for jet and turboprop aircraft to minimize the noise generated over residential areas.  For departures, these include recommended flap settings and rate of climb.  For arrivals, these include flap settings, descent altitudes, time for extending landing gear, and the use of reverse thrust. 

AOPA recommends procedures for piston aircraft that include using the full runway.  The rate of climb and the timing for departing the traffic pattern can be adjusted to minimize noise over residential areas.  Altitude and propeller settings during arrivals can also help reduce noise exposure.

Massport has not identified a national organization that recommends noise abatement procedures for helicopters.  Therefore, in 1999 some Hanscom helicopter pilots helped identify some basic airspeed and altitude recommendations that help reduce the noise impact.

Noise Monitoring and Modeling:  Overview of Hanscom’s noise monitoring and modeling and how it is used in noise abatement.

Introduction:  Tracking noise provides Massport and the residential communities with an understanding of the noise environment around Hanscom.  This is done with monitors that measure the actual noise at specific locations and through computer modeling.

Noise Monitoring System:  Massport has six monitors around Hanscom Field.  There is one in each of the four surrounding communities, off the four runway ends.  The other two are on the airfield, near the ends of Runway 11-29, the east-west runway.  Each monitor has a microphone and equipment that collects the readings and transfers the data to Massport offices.  View section 7 page 30 of the 2005 Draft ESPR.

Noise Complaints:  Overview of Hanscom’s noise complaint system and how it is used in noise abatement

Introduction:  The noise monitoring system provides the Hanscom noise office with data as well as a mechanism for logging complaints and generating responses that address the issues raised in the complaint.

Noise Complaint Line:  There are several alternatives for logging a complaint regarding Hanscom related noise.  This interactive website allows the user to learn about an aircraft operation that was disturbing and to register a complaint on-line.  Additionally, the user can call the noise report line at 781-869-8050 and leave a message describing the incident.  To speak to someone in the noise office, call 781-869-8018 during normal business hours.

When a complaint is received about a specific incident, the date and time are researched and a response is generated, providing as much information as is available.  There are limits to what can be provided because many Hanscom flights are Visual Flight Rules (VFR).

MORE:  Pilots fly either Visual Flight Rules (VFR) or Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).  When they fly IFR, information, including aircraft type and time of operation, is generated electronically.  When there is VFR weather, pilots may choose to fly visually.  They communicate with the FAA tower and are tallied for statistical purposes, but written information, such as aircraft type, is not available.

Complaints are shared with the FAA Tower manager.  Also, if the complaint is related to a military flight, the information is shared with the community affairs office at Hanscom Air Force Base.