Logan Airport: Runway Change Could Increase Air Traffic Over Medford
November 21, 2016
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  • Medford elected officials and residents worry a proposed new runway use plan at Logan Airport would increase the number of low-flying planes over the city.

    Under the new plan, which could be approved in December, the airport would increase use of Runway 15 for arrivals and Runway 33 for departures, both paths that direct planes over Medford.

    The city has experienced an increase in air traffic since 2013, when the Federal Aviation Administration implemented an automated navigation protocol that uses radar approach points, allowing planes to fly shorter distances and reduce fuel usage. The change meant more landings on Runway 15 and takeoffs on Runway 33 — the two paths affecting Medford that would be used even more under the new runway use plan.

    By 2014, more and more Medford residents were filing noise complaints with Massport. Of the 80 or so communities represented in Massport’s complaint database, Medford ranked fifth, eighth and fourth in number of complaints filed in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively.

    “This is affecting 30,000 Medford residents, if not everybody in Medford,” said City Council Vice President Breanna Lungo-Koehn during the council’s Nov. 15 meeting. “No matter where you live, you hear it. It’s happening at all hours of the night and all hours of the morning. It’s hard to get to bed. It waked you up at night. And in the morning, it’s starting at 4, 5 in the morning from what I hear and the complaints I’m getting.”

    With complaints coming from residents in Medford and surrounding communities, the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition addressed the noise concerns in a Sept. 21 letter to the FAA. The coalition, which includes Medford Mayor Stephanie M. Burke and mayors of 13 nearby municipalities, called on the FAA to take action to mitigate noise over coalition cities and towns.

    “It is neither fair nor appropriate that specific areas within and outside of the [coalition] region are now levied with severe and continuous airplane noise and pollution,” the letter, written by Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, stated. “The FAA has failed to take action on this issue despite hundreds of complaints from the impacted communities. However, your agency has taken steps in other cities, including Charlotte and Baltimore, to resolve the noise pollution that flight path changes have caused in the vicinity of their airports.

    “We hope that the FAA will make similar improvements for our residents who have been equally harmed,” the letter continued.

    Despite the mayors’ letter, some Medford officials fear that the FAA is preparing to direct even more planes over the city in the agency’s attempt to mitigate air traffic over Milton, where elected officials and residents have been most vocal about frustration over low-flying planes. 

    On Oct. 19, four members of Congress representing Massachusetts and Milton — U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, and U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch — sent a letter to the FAA urging the agency to respond to issues raised earlier this year by Milton’s Board of Selectmen. The board issued its own letter to the FAA on Sept. 8, requesting that the agency work with Massport to relieve airplane-related noise over the town.

    Based on complaints from Milton residents and pressure from elected officials, the FAA and Massport are preparing to adopt a new runway use plan (a vote is scheduled for Dec. 1) that would shift air traffic away from Milton — and likely over Medford. 

    The change could double the amount of air traffic over Medford, said Luke Preisner, a Medford resident and member of Boston West Fair Skies, a group that advocates for Medford and surrounding communities in matters related to Logan Airport.

    “It would be concentrated over Fulton Heights and Wellington,” Preisner said at the Nov. 15 Council meeting. “The rest of Medford wouldn’t really see it, but you’d really feel it in Fulton Heights and Wellington. This would be in addition to the departure traffic from [Runway] 33L, which a lot of us feel.”

    Unlike many surrounding communities, Medford has had little to no representation on two groups that work with FAA and Massport officials to raise concerns about noise and other air traffic issues: the Massport Community Advisory Committee and the Logan Community Advisory Committee. 

    Although the city has designated representatives on each committee — Yelena Shulkin and Endri Musho for the Logan CAC, and Leonard Glionna for the Massport CAC — records of meeting minutes from both groups show that none has attended a meeting during 2016. In fact, Logan CAC minutes indicate that Medford has not been represented at any meeting since before Jan. 15, 2015. 

    “To have the administration not check on someone they’re appointing … I’m not quite sure why our representatives for many years has failed to attend the meetings,” said Councilor Michael Marks on Nov. 15. “It’s vital to have a seat at the table so Medford has a voice. We can’t rely on other communities.”

    As part of a resolution approved by the Council during the meeting, Councilor Adam Knight requested that Burke appoint a Council member as Medford’s representative or alternate to one of the committees.

    “Milton is pushing back so hard,” Lungo-Koehn said earlier this week. “Their state reps are so on top of it, they’re complaining so much, they’re going to eliminate that air traffic and push it to Medford.” 

    Burke was scheduled to attend a Nov. 18 meeting at the FAA’s Burlington office to address noise issues related to air traffic from Logan.