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 Boston Logan International Airport. Hanscom Field operates 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
Weather is the primary factor in determining which runway is used. Optimal aircraft performance is achieved when an aircraft lands or departs into the wind. The Federal Aviation Administration (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 pilot requests. 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 dictates the flight paths used by aircraft as they approach and depart the airport. Runway 11-29 lies east-west, with Lexington to the east of the airport and Concord to the west. If Runway 11 is being used for arrivals, the aircraft make their final approach over Concord, while departures fan out over Lexington. If Runway 29 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 Runway 23 is being used for arrivals, the final approach is over Bedford, while departures fan out over Lincoln. If Runway 5 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.
The FAA’s primary mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. Every day, FAA air traffic personnel and pilots coordinate to determine runway use and flight paths for a particular flight based on weather conditions.
The federal government also 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 Federal Regulations below).
Massport encourages flying techniques that minimize aircraft noise and its impact on communities (view Massport’s noise abatement recommendations). In 1980, Massport adopted regulations for Hanscom Field that included a phase-out of aircraft operations by some of the noisiest aircraft, and a fee to discourage use of the airport during nighttime hours.
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 are required to comply with Stage 3 noise levels as of December 31, 2015.
The FAA regulates air traffic, including altitude. 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 their own to the runway and spaces their aircraft to follow traffic as dictated by controllers in the airport traffic control tower.
Traffic generates fluid flight patterns at Hanscom Field. If an aircraft is being flown using Visual Flight Rules (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.
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-sight-only surveillance, and accuracy decreases with distance. The terminal radar at Boston Logan is the closest to Hanscom Field and provides the best surveillance due to its proximity. View more information about surveillance radar.
Routinely there are non-Hanscom Field-related flights that fly over the area. These may be Boston Logan flights or aircraft that may be flying between two other airports.
When maintenance has been performed on an aircraft, it may be necessary to conduct a final test of the engines at full power. Hanscom Field 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 9:00 PM and 7:00 AM. Small aircraft also conduct a flight check prior to departure, which includes a brief run-up.
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 Field.
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.
Each aircraft type within an aircraft category has distinctive noise characteristics. This is particularly relevant for the many different jets that use Hanscom Field, including military fighter jets, Boeing 737s, Gulfstream jets, and small Citation jets.
Jets dominate the noise levels at Hanscom Field. However, activity by some of the noisiest jets has been decreasing in recent years. View the Annual Noise Report.
Massport operates Hanscom Field as a premier general aviation airport with limited commercial service. On the civilian side, the airport has historically accommodated corporate aviation, private flying, charters, air taxis, and pilot training as well as scheduled commuter airline service and limited cargo operations.
Hanscom Field’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 1% of the activity, but contribute 7% 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.
The FAA’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and efficiency of the nation’s navigable airspace. The agency plays several major roles, including developing and carrying out programs to control aircraft noise. These programs are aimed at increasing understanding of noise impacts, identifying solutions to reduce those impacts, and educating the public. The federal government also legislates requirements for the manufacturing of new aircraft and the phase-out of the older aircraft that exceed certain noise thresholds.
Massport’s noise abatement office is diligent in enforcing Hanscom Field’s 1980 regulations and in fostering the airport’s Fly Friendly program. The latter encourages Hanscom Field 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 Minute Man National Historical Park. The program has been very successful, with flights over the Park reduced by over 20% since the program began.
Massport is actively creating an airport that fosters responsible piloting. Although safety and security are the highest priorities, pilots at Hanscom Field are encouraged to use quiet flying techniques. Material regarding the program is available at the flight schools, the fixed-base operators (FBOs), in the Massport offices, and on the web. Additionally, Hanscom Field tenants who are pilots are requested to watch a “Fly Friendly” video when they are badged in the Massport offices.
Military aircraft range from helicopters to jets. Some of the military jets have high noise profiles. Although military operations represent 1% of the activity, they contribute 7% 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 Hanscom Air Force Base.
Tenants are asked to use and/or encourage the Fly Friendly program. The FBOs display “Fly Friendly” material, as do the flight schools. Transient aircraft pilots who are visiting Hanscom Field can get information regarding the 1980 regulations and the Fly Friendly program from the FBOs.
Rules and Regulations
In 1980, Massport adopted regulations that address some of the noise issues at Hanscom Field. In 1999, Massport adopted a Fly Friendly program at Hanscom Field that encourages pilots to use quiet flying techniques.
Hanscom Field Noise Rules (1980 Massport Regulations, 740 CMR 25.00)
The Hanscom Field-related regulations adopted in 1980 have five major components:
- A fee applies to aircraft operations between the hours of 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM.
- Air carrier services will not be performed in an aircraft with a seating capacity of greater than 60 seats.
- Touch-and-go operations are not permitted between the hours of 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM.
- Touch-and-go operations are not permitted at any time by aircraft exceeding 12,500 pounds.
- APUs and GPUs can only be used for 30 minutes, and there are additional limitations on APU and GPU use between 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM.
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 Field helicopter pilots helped identify some basic airspeed and altitude recommendations that help reduce the noise impact.