Logan Airport: aircraft noise over Brookline

Recently, use of airspace over metropolitan Boston has been changing once again. Previous changes introduced over the past 25 years have directed flight paths over the ocean as much as possible. To the north of Logan Airport, those shifts also tended to move nearest parts of paths over Lynn and Revere. To the south, nearest parts of paths moved over Milton and Quincy.


Source: Massachusetts Port Authority, 2009

Brookline is fortunate. Angles of Logan Airport runways and locations of long-distance flight paths combined to create a “noise shadow” around the town. Some communities farther from the airport–including Lynn, Winchester, Belmont, Roslindale and Milton–have been exposed to louder aircraft noise.

Runway 33L: When west and northwest winds strengthen, as they typically do in colder months, for departing flights there may be no satisfactory alternative to runway 33L, pointing from East Boston toward Chelsea and Everett. Reducing noise from that departure path proved a challenge and took longer. In 2013, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed a 5-year review of environmental impacts.

At medium distances, around 50 miles, there are three flight corridors out of Logan to the west and southwest (PATSS, BLZZR and REVSS), one to the northwest (HYLND), one to the northeast (LBSTA), one to the east (CELTK) and two to the south and southeast (BRUWN and SSOXS). In May of 2013, FAA specified standard flight paths from runway 33L to each of those corridors.

Based on four years of measurements at over 30 locations, FAA estimated numbers of residents exposed to 45 dBA or more of aircraft noise from runway 33L departures. As compared with previous, partly unregulated paths, FAA found that its standard flight paths would reduce the number of residents so exposed by about 68,000. There are, however, some aircraft noise increases in Arlington, Belmont, Malden, Waltham, Watertown and Winchester.


Source: U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, 2013

Near the airport, the new standard flight paths pass over partly industrial areas along the Mystic River for about four miles, then begin to diverge. The branch going closest to Brookline is routed over Fresh Pond in Cambridge, then near the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and over West Roxbury and Canton. Flights using this path will often be headed for southern Europe, New York City, Philadelphia and the Atlantic coast of Florida.

Patterns: Currently, about half of Logan operations use the nearly north/south runway pair 4/22 R and L, with the nearly east/west runway 9/27 often in simultaneous use for departures over the ocean. A majority of these operations keep aircraft over the ocean while below 10,000 ft. Those flight patterns have reduced the operations using the southeast/northwest runway 15R/33L to below 20 percent.


Source: U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, 2013

Departures via runway 27, headed toward downtown Boston over the Inner Harbor, have become fewer, averaging about two an hour, and they usually turn and follow the Southeast Expressway rather than pass over downtown Boston and Brookline. Arrivals that would formerly have approached runway 22L from the north at low altitudes, over Revere and East Boston, are now often directed over the Outer Harbor and Squantum southward; then they circle back northward to runway 4R.

The loudest noises from the changes in patterns are heard in South Boston, the Ashmont sector of Dorchester, Milton, and communities to the south as far as Brockton. They receive many arrivals via runway 4R and departures via runway 22R, flying below 5,000 ft. Despite recent Watertown and Belmont complaints, those communities and nearby Hull and Quincy hear the loudest chronic aircraft noise south and west of Boston. By far the worst noise problems for the region continue in East Boston, Chelsea, Revere Beach and Winthrop.

The once controversial runway 14/32 along the Inner Harbor edge of Logan Airport, opened in 2006, turned out low in value for major airlines. A little over one percent of Logan jet arrivals use it–all landing from southeast to northwest. This year no Logan jet departures have used it. More than $100 million was spent on the project during the Romney and Walker Bush administrations. The runway “stub” 15L/33R, only a half mile long–intended during the 1960s glory years of former Massport chairman Ed King to become part of a second, major runway pair–has been nearly abandoned.

Rogues: Although the new standard flight paths tend to spare Brookline from aircraft noise, they do not prevent it. At least a few pilots a day behave like rogues, taking liberties with the rules. Alitalia pilots seem particularly prone, angling south as soon as they pass the Tobin Bridge and flying over North Brookline around JFK Crossing at 4,000 ft or less. It might save a minute on a flight to Rome.

Massport has adapted to PublicVue for live tracking instead of the now-antiquated WebTrak used at LAX, JFK and other very large airports. The Massport version of PublicVue tracks incoming flights out to about 500 miles and outgoing flights and overflights out to about 150 miles. It runs about 10 minutes behind the clock.

Rogue air traffic controllers at Logan could be detected early in the morning with help from PublicVue. United 236 from San Francisco was over Winchester and would normally have been sent over Revere, the Outer Harbor and Quincy to circle back and land on runway 4R. Instead, it headed south over Everett into Somerville and over B.U., passing over old Lincoln School around 5:30 am at about 4,000 ft. The shortcut may have saved two minutes.

If you hear an offensive overhead noise, you have 10 minutes to launch PublicVue and watch flights of the aircraft around Logan when you heard the noise. PublicVue provides an integrated tool to report noise complaints. FlightAware or another single-flight tracker will provide long-distance, equipment, schedule and fare information.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 20, 2014

Logan Airport live flight monitor, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2014

Logan Airport statistics, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2014

Jaclyn Reiss, No quick fix for jet noise just west of Boston, Boston Globe, December 7, 2014

Noise and NextGen: Case study of Boston Logan runway 33L, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, May, 2013 (2 MB)

Record of decision, Logan Airport runway 33L area navigation, standard instrument departure, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, May, 2013 (19 MB)

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