Craig’s Watertown Airplane Noise Meeting notes from 25 July 2017

Craig Kelley’s notes on the Watertown Airplane noise meeting of July 25th. Please excuse any mistakes I made (and I am sure I made mistakes) but, for the most part, these notes closely reflect the meeting and should give you a solid foundation for understanding airplane overflight noise issues.


The Logan Community Advisory Committee (CAC) was set up as a part of mitigation requirements as a result of the 2002 environmental record of decision for the Boston Logan Airside Improvements Planning Project (Runway 14-32). (I couldn’t find anything online that was specific to the Logan CAC and think it might have blended into the Massport CAC but I am not sure).

It was to a noise study, but they also have to look at safety and efficiency when looking at aircraft overflights. Safety is always an overarching concern.

The study was broken into three phases. Phase I started in 2003 and ended in 2007. Phase II started in 2007, the Boston Logan Airport Noise Study (BLANS), and ended in December 2012 They did a bunch of ground noise measures for this.

Phase III, also called the BLANS, started in July 2013 and tried to ID and evaluate potential runway use measures to be included in a runway use program.

Massport CAC is big because it is all of Massport, to include Worcester Regional Airport, the Connoly terminal, etc).

Phase III gave us R-NAV- aRea NAVigatio, which allows an aircraft to choose any course within a network of navigation beacons, rather than navigate directly to and from the bacons. This was initially discussed as a concept with the Logan CAC.

Prior to R-NAV, aircraft followed ‘general’ routes created by ground-based waypoint beacons, meaning that the aircraft would follow and fly in a ‘lane’ in the air, sort of like a bowling alley meandering down a prescribed lane.

R-NAV was a way to address some overflight noise by allowing planes to more ‘efficiently’ use airspace but a consequence of the 2013 implementation of R-NAV is aircraft route compression. Plus aircraft can more closely follow each other. Logan CAC approved R-NAV (again, I’m not sure how Logan CAC and Massport CAC intersect).

Runways are known by their compass settings on either end of the strip. So Runway 14-32 has two runway compass settings.

This part was given by Andrea Adams, Senior Planner, Department of Community Development and Planning: Watertown documents are here.


Myron Kassaraba town of Belmont Rep to Massport CAC (and treasurer) gave the next talk. With the start of R-NAV in 2013, communities that had never had noise issues with Logan started filing complaints. NextGen was the program to use the latest technology to maximize airspace, sort of like how we use GPS in our cars. Went from radar based equipment to more of a digital, GPS system using satellites. Increases safety and efficiency, airplanes can be controlled more precisely and that can be a good thing when you’re trying to fit in a slot somewhere like over Boston Harbor to avoid flying over people’s homes. But it also put planes in concentrated slots over populated places where planes would previously have naturally distributed. The inefficiency of the earlier system was that every airplane had to get vectors from the tower and this more precise flying created problems further from the airport because planes could be more tightly controlled. They implemented this navigational tool with a full environmental assessment but no one really thought the issue was something thought would be impactful to places that had never had concerns previously.

Previously, DayNightNoiseAverage- that’s what they looked at when they did the environmental review and the data showed the folks with most of the problems would be better off. But those of us with runway 33L issues (which is now us), saw a greater noise exposure as more densely populated areas like East Cambridge were avoided as planes fly up over the Mystic and then go over Winchester (one aerial path) and the other 3 paths go over Belmont, North & West Cambridge, etc. So one occasional plane became a lot of very precise planes. Went from perhaps about 6 overflights a day before R-NAV to about 65 a day. But FAA found No Significant Impact.

FAA also said that the noise impact was less that most thresholds, which appears to be true from a decibel reading standpoint, but there are a LOT of planes and Logan’s operations are problematic.

Runway 4R/22L, one of the longer runways, had been closed from mid-May-23 June. So there was a big jump in takeoffs on 33L, with up to 39/hour and 454 in one day. That can be very disruptive!

Other factors, like weather, impact which runway is being used and on the 28th there were 400-plus flights from 33L.

Monthly average of 33L departures (and we really only have to worry about departures) is 3000 in the last 12 months, versus 2000 for previous 12 months. So there ARE a lot more flights overhead recently. Since 2007, 33L has 17% of all Logan departures. Before 2007 and prior to opening of 14/32 it was 6%.

Changing weather patterns and more northwest wind may also be leading to more use of 33L.

So if you’ve been more aware of flights, there have been a LOT more flights off of 33L.

RNAV study as a result of a MOU between FAA and Massport to cooperate in analyzing opportunities for noise reduction through changes or amendments to PBN procedures. MIT Lab for Aviation and the Environment is managing the RNAV study.

RNAV problem is happening everywhere. Lots of people are suing. But Massport is leading the way in analyzing the impacts with this MOU and related study.

The study is split into Block 1 and Block 2, the first being the easier stuff.

The Massport complaint line was designed for one off problems like a low UPS plane, but it’s the only path we have now for making systemic complaints.

RNAV study shows what we thought- denser concentrations of overflights is a real thing.

Only 17% of the time they’re flying over us. The other 83% of the time, they’re flying over someone else.

Arrivals come on 15R for the most part.

The altitude of overhead planes hasn’t changed much, though it is not constant, but folks are likely becoming more aware of the issue. Generally, the planes are not flying lower overhead but definitely more often.

MIT figured out that the speed of the takeoff impacted noise footprint. Decreasing the speed to 180 miles an hour would decrease noise by lots of decibels, but they can’t do much about height as there are a lot of things flying around. FAA is looking at slower takeoff speeds.

In Charlotte, they looked at discontinuous (Open SID) procedures that have the ability to disperse planes sooner than the currently do on the tracks they’re following. Different airplanes could disperse at different points based on RNAV and GPS.

Runway 27 was RNAVed at about the same time, over Milton and so forth and they have similar problems.

No one is going to do anything that will decrease safety and altering thrust and routes for some planes may have that impact.  And some pilots do not want to take out over the water and will chose 33L instead.

Final recommendations of the RNAV study are expected in the winter 17/18 and the implementation/Final Report in spring 2018. Lots of more hurdles with Block 2 because of modeling and environmental assessment needed.

But our efforts have us leading the pack in terms of studying and managing RNAV impacts.

4 major runway configurations at Logan. FAA picks the runway use at the tower or even out of Manchester, NH. Massport can put constraints on it but does not decide. Yet Massport takes our phone calls so that is a disconnect. They like to use 2 runways for arrivals, 1 for departures, but wind can split it 2/2. Logan 101 at the Massport CAC website has more info. Weather is a big fact, but also demand/traffic and aircraft mix influence it- not all runways can handle all aircraft. A big heavy plane needs a longer runway. And weather that’s not just at Logan can impact the runway selection. There are 5000 airplanes in the air over the US at 2 PM so ripple effects can go a long way if you have a thunderstorm in Ohio. Plus if you’ve used up your gas on a long flight, you may need a specific runway and not have the ability to fly around to get another runway.

Can’t be a curfew because the Airport Noise and Capacity Act.

In 1990, airlines moved to quieter state 3 and stage 4 aircraft (95% of Logan air landings are quietest stage 4) and the tradeoff for this move was FAA said no curfews.

Loan has 47 scheduled departures from 9 PM to midnight and 20 arrivals and 20 departures scheduled between and 6 AM. Way more than in 2010.

In 2007, as part of the 14S/32 new runway, the late-night configuration set up was to have head to head use of 15/33. We still do that. So planes land on 33L and depart on 15R and they can do that quickly. And weather delays can push flights further into the evening. But if there are 40 operations (20 takeoffs and 20 landings), they can’t do head to head and that has an impact on us. A single airplane at 2 AM can be very disruptive. This overnight procedure increase is as impactful in its way as RNAV.

Runway rotation is something that future BLANS studies, if funded, may look at.

If we can stay at 17% of departures and get them dispursed, we’ll be doing okay.


Blemont CAC Document index is on the Belmont websight.

Terminal E is being expanded. So international flights are likely to come in from 8 PM-midnight.

Logan does not do a noise based landing fee (being evaluated now) and off-hour price differentials for landing fees are not allowed.

FAA understands that noise is a huge problem with their operations and potential expansion. Lots of people are upset about the noise all over the country.

3 Responses to “Craig’s Watertown Airplane Noise Meeting notes from 25 July 2017”

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  3. Craig Kelley says:

    Notes from RNAV air traffic noise discussion
    West Cambridge Youth Center
    September 7, 2017
    Compiled from notes by Wil Durbin & Craig Kelley

    Officials in attendance: Bill Deignan, Cambridge CDD & Massport CAC representative; Kate Chang, Congressman Capuano’s Office; Wade Blackman, Congresswoman Clark’s Office; Representative Jon Hecht; Senator Pat Jehlen; Jan Devereux, City Councillor; Craig Kelley, City Councillor; Susanne Rasmussen, CDD; Anthony Gallagher, Massport.

    Bill Deignan presented on the background for RNAV system, state and local attempts to mitigate the noise. He stated that the presentation, along with the City’s ongoing efforts can be viewed at:

    Bill’s basic points (as summarized by Craig) were as follows:

    • Airplane usage is up at Logan and we are seeing more flights over North and West Cambridge with RNAV’s tightly controlled flight patterns. A variety of RNAV possibilities were considered prior to its 2013 implementation but for reasons ranging from safety to fuel efficiency, the current 33L RNAV was approved.
    • There are more late-night flights in and out of Logan, both scheduled flights and ones that get bumped later due to delays. Due to previous agreements with airlines around upgrading aircraft to quitter types, Logan can’t say ‘no’ to airlines that want to fly in or out at night.
    • While some people brought up noise concerns during the NEPA review of RNAV implementation, few people really understood just how drastic the change would be for neighborhood that previously had experienced little overflight noise and thus were not paying as much attention as they otherwise might have.
    • There are 4 major runway configurations at Logan and the overflight noise we experience is due to runway 33L departures.
    • The FAA & MassPort have contracted with the MIT Lab for Aviation and the Environment to do a study on RNAV problems and possible solutions. The study is to be done in the spring of 2018 and should have results broken down into things that can be done reasonably easily and ones that will require more investment/time.
    • “Solutions” to our noise cannot be a complete shifting of noise problems onto other communities.
    • Operational issues such as thrust, elevation, speed and so forth can impact noise on the ground. Mitigating those issues has to consider safety, fuel consumption, efficiency (basically flight throughput) and so forth.
    • Recent construction work at Logan, as well as weather (planes like to take off into the wind), may have resulted in a recent uptick in overflights, but the data is not entirely clear on causation.

    Following the presentation, residents asked:

    • Does Cambridge in its participation with the Massport Community Advisory Committee (CAC) have a targeted goal to achieve?
    • Is there any connection between the City’s efforts at mitigating RNAV disruptions and helicopter noise?
    • Are health issues also being addressed in the MIT study?
    • How was the RNAV system approved?
    • How can citizens be more active?

    Councillor Devereux moderated the discussion, and asked for input from elected officials.

    Rep. Hecht stated that getting any change had been a very difficult fight up to this point. The FAA’s agreement to the MIT study is not perhaps a victory but a step, he said, and that the community come a long ways in three years.

    He stated that residents’ complaints have made a big difference, and the grass roots effort has been huge. He said they’ve been trying to amplify resident voices, and to focus them to make sure the FAA acknowledges that its not just “cranks” calling. He said they have a working group among impacted communities, but that federal folks are most critical, the FAA listens to Congress, they approve their budget.

    The number to call for complaints is 617-561-3333.

    Without the efforts of Representatives Capuano and Clark, he said, the community would not have FAA at the table. The respective cities have to keep all of those elements in play, and he was very committed to that. He said that he has been trying to strengthen the CAC, and make sure all impacted communities are members. Now all effected communities are on, and they are trying to improve the CAC budget. He reminded attendees that CAC members are unpaid volunteers, and they put in a tremendous amount of effort. Perhaps it’s not a measureable goal, but it’s a start, and getting back to pre-RNAV is a good goal.

    Myron Kassaraba, Belmont CAC representative, stated that there has been a tremendous effort of citizens involved in capturing data, and some of it is better than or has refuted some of the reports that have come out of the FAA.

    Wade Blackman thanked everyone for organizing and putting the conversation together. He said that the Representative’s Office is listening to constituents, and it is a slow moving process, but they thought it is moving forward. The MOU is perhaps the only one in the country going forward, he said, a testament to the work at the CAC.

    He stated that the respective offices are united on moving this forward, and it was a very important issue for the Clarke. While different cities are experiencing different impacts, moving the goal forward for all impacted communities was the ultimate goal. Representatives from all over the country are feeling the impacts from the RNAV system. He said they are reaching out based on those points of connection. Rep. Clarke fought for prioritizing studies on the impact of noise on sleep and cardiovascular health, he added.

    Kate Chang echoed what Wade had said. She encouraged residents to continue to call the Massport hotline, even if it feels like spitting in the wind. The Congressman’s office has been on this issue for a long time, she said, adding that they are very aware. It is something that is not easy, there are a lot of moving parts. She said the Congressman has asked for dispersement, or fanning of the path, so no one community is bearing an undue burden of noise. Weather and exigencies happen, she said, but we need a fair baseline. The noise impact needs to be revisited, and she said the impact threshold of 65 db was probably too high. A report out of Tufts is also looking at particulate matter as another impact of the flights.

    Jan Devereux said that an additional problem comes from the overnight flights and curfew, which local officials can’t set. Related to that are questions about whether Massport would pay for mitigation, she said, but Cambridge has not been designated an impact community. She joked that the next question was where to build the next Airport when Logan is submerged by climate change. She voiced her frustration that so many flights are at Logan and not other regional airports. The issue of dispersal is interesting, she said, when you see the narrow corridors. A charge arises of NIMBYism, but we likely can’t reduce the number of flights, but we can disburse them.

    A resident asked for clarification on the advisory process. They also noted that the MIT study was supposes to release findings in spring 2018, but FAA’s own study might also be on the heels of that project and not take the findings into consideration.

    Bill Deignan said the recommendation to mitigate the impact of RNAV will be finalized in Spring, but that doesn’t mean FAA has made any decisions. For anything that requires review, FAA will take it up after the study is complete.

    A resident stated that from the preliminary conversation, there have been a lot of questions about reducing sound, not about reducing flights.

    Bill Deignan responded that short-term efforts are about reducing noise, long-term efforts are about dispersion.

    Rep. Hecht said there needs to be a balance which will include some dispersion, but unclear what the equation is between reducing sound and reducing overhead flights. He will wait on MIT report.

    Myron Kassaraba wanted to add to what dispersion means. That would not entail creating new flight paths, but allowing planes on different flight paths to veer off of the established flight path at their discretion. When a plane reaches a certain attitude, they would be cleared to take a different path. As for curfews, he said, ANCA outlined that if airlines agree to update to quieter craft (which was a good thing), Congress approved not putting any restrictions on when airplanes can fly (like the one flying through Craig’s kitchen as he types this at 11:17 PM). When you get to Massport, they say they can not refuse airlines that want to set their schedules. ANCA needs to be revisited and updated, he said. If there is something we can do, we will, but it is a congressional issue. Every airport in the country is addressing these issues.

    A resident said that if a city refuses to allow flights, and got the FAA’s attention, maybe something would happen. They continued that RNAV allows more frequent flights, it makes the system more efficient and allowing compiling. Massport pays Turkish airline to come to Boston, and they will not negotiate with that carrier to move the flight off of midnight. The Turkish airline flight does not need to take off at that time. The Hong Kong flight is similar, Massport is never interceding on residents’ behalf, he said.

    They said Massport has not been mentioned much tonight, but he was not optimistic. He found them distrustful, lacking integrity, and the community has little trust. FAA is giving money for community outreach, but Massport is not in the community. RNAV report period received many complaints, but communities signed off because they were told that flights would be higher.

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