Getting Quieter:FAA Tests Noise Reduction at Logan

This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began testing another potential noise reduction measure at Logan. According to Massport, the second test is part of the Boston Logan Airport Noise Study’s third phase, which will evaluate whether changes in runway use at Boston Logan Airport can further reduce aircraft noise in the communities surrounding the airport.

Massport supports this noise abatement effort and asked the FAA to conduct the testing. The second test is designed to evaluate whether FAA air traffic controllers can switch runway configurations at two specific points during daytime operations: after the morning peak operational period, which ends at approximately 9:30 a.m., and before the evening peak operational period, which starts at around 2:30 p.m. The test is expected to run for at least three months, but will not exceed six months.

Ultimately, the FAA, Massport and Massport’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC) may use the results of the first two tests and any additional planned tests to develop a runway use program that is consistent with FAA safety and operational requirements.

However, without a noise abatement goal some, like Chris Marchi of AirInc., are skeptical of the runway use plan or RUP.

“The fact is, this “runway use plan” is particularly useless,” said Marchi who heads the Logan CAC, AirInc. “If a noise abatement based runway use plan does not set noise abatement goals, it cannot produce measurable success. This RUP is a far cry from the original one in place at Logan”

Marchi said the Preferential Runway Assignment System or PRAS did what the name suggests it would–it selected runways based on wind and weather conditions to achieve overall noise reduction goals. It also avoided long durations of overflights over any given community including limits on total time flown over in a 24 hour span as well as total time flown over over the span of a few days.

“The original Preferential Runway Assignment System worked well when it was used,” said Marchi. “It had some technical difficulties based upon changes in computer systems, but community advocates believe that it’s major flaw was one of culture: the FAA and the airline industry are particularly resistant to any form of regulation.”

This phenomenon can be clearly seen throughout this recent attempt to create a new RUP. Now a 13 year epic process is required and FAA administrators decision to allow the construction of runway 14/32, this noise abatement process began with 54 different ideas about ways to reduce noise at the airport. Over The first two phases of this long process, the FAA systematically ruled out every one of them.

“So today’s RUP has no backbone,” said Marchi. “It has been relegated to testing out the very simplest levels of collaboration involving some very basic configuration changes with the goal of changing runway configurations in the morning so that people will not ‘go to bed’ with the planes overhead and wake up in the same configuration. Not only has this particular goal never surfaced as a primary goal of residents living in communities most impacted by noise, but it also has nothing to do with reducing or even attempting to reduce overall noise exposure.”

Now, with Massport’s new CAC mandated legislatively, the role of the original noise abatement-related advisory committee, the original Logan CAC, active since the 1990’s, is in need of clarification.

“If anyone takes a look at any of the FAA documents relating the Boston Logan Airport noise study, they will quickly recognize the need for long-term community advocacy and the need for engagement of those in the community with technical expertise on this noise issue,” said Marchi. “This leadership is vital now, as noise is on the rise and neither Massport, nor the FAA has shown the ability to produce leadership positions on the noise abatement issue. This is a particularly local, community sensitive issue and it requires community level leadership.”

Marchi said at this juncture, the Massport CAC and Massport staff need help in taking bold new leadership positions on Airport noise impact in the metro Boston region.

“The Logan CAC, with its decades long experience and understanding of airport and FAA culture is uniquely well-positioned to provide guidance to the Massport CAC so that they can use their legislatively mandated powers to influence Board-level policy change, and leverage improvements in the noise impacts suffered by increasing populations in the metro-Boston region,” said Marchi. “As the East Boston representative of the Logan CAC, I am looking forward to working with Mary Berninger and Karen Buttiglieri, joint Massport CAC members appointed by Mayor Walsh, to advance this work. I look forward to developing a strong advocacy relationship between the Logan CAC and the Massport CAC.”

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