Say the words “nonstop flights” to most Milton residents and you are likely to be met with a shudder. In this bucolic town just south of Boston, the term has taken on new meaning — a seemingly incessant string of jets filling the skies.
“There are mornings when I’m woken up at 5 in the morning with planes going overhead 30 seconds to a minute apart,” said Anacristina Kenney, who lives on the south side of Milton. “We have to keep fans on, we have the windows closed, and the air-conditioner running to block out the sound, and even then we can still hear the airplanes.”
“Sometimes they’re so low they shake the house,” she added.
Though Milton is characterized by large homes on spacious lots, golf courses, and a large swath of the Blue Hills Reservation, it’s also located under multiple flight paths to and from Logan Airport.
Since 2011, GPS technology has led to flight patterns becoming more focused, guiding planes one after another over the same neighborhoods and even the same homes. But the route implemented this past summer sending more flights over Milton was the final straw for many residents, said Paul Yovino, whose home sits under one of the town’s most commonly used flight paths.
“There is persistent noise – once they start up, they continue,” Yovino said of the planes. “I can put up with one or two an hour, but they are sending them in 30 seconds apart.”
In the first seven months of 2013, residents from Milton made 673 calls to the Noise Complaint Line of MassPort, which runs Logan Airport. In July alone, the 327 calls placed by Milton residents represented about half of the monthly total.
Sometimes they’re so low they shake the house.
Like many other residents, Kenney regularly dials 617-561-3333 to register her complaints on the hot line. She also has written letters to local politicians and representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Kenney and her husband grew up in Milton and have raised their three children in town.
While they aren’t considering leaving, aircraft noise has made living there a hardship, she said.
“We purchased our dream home, the home we’ve always wanted, off the beaten track,’’ Kenney said. “But we’ve been so upset to have so much air traffic.”
A lifelong Milton resident, 91-year-old John Rutecki said the noise has gotten much worse in the past couple of years.
Rutecki lives near the intersection of Randolph Avenue and Chickatawbut Road in the southeastern portion of town. The noise is most troublesome, he said, during the summer, when he and his wife keep the doors and windows open. When he visits with his neighbors and relatives, he says, they can’t chat outside.
“If you’re sitting and talking, and I spend time with my grandchildren next door, everybody just stops and looks around to wait for the airplane to go over,” Rutecki said.
Until this year, Milton was situated beneath flight paths for Logan runways 27, 4R and 4L. But this summer, a new path brought departures from 33L over town, creating the spike in complaints.
A group of Milton residents has formed a committee that has been gathering data, while petitioning MassPort, the FAA, and other government officials for changes, while simultaneously fighting the case in federal court.
Philip Johenning, a cochairman of the group, along with Sheryl Fleitman, decided to record the noise above his house. An hour-long recording, taken near the end of July, features airplanes flying over his pool, one after another, for its entire duration. As soon as one stops, the next one can be heard in the distance.
Johenning has used the recording to show MassPort officials what living under a flight path is like.
Working on the committee is a challenge as many lay people struggle to understand the problem.
“We attend meetings on Saturday mornings rather than doing things with our families and friends. We study wind direction, runway restrictions, fight with MassPort, analyze aircraft altitude, plead with our elected officials,” Johenning said. “Why? It is because the enjoyment of our lives has been taken from us and we struggle to get that enjoyment back.”
Elected officials at the local, state, and federal level all hear complaints from Milton residents. At a recent selectmen’s meeting, discussion of the issue of airplane noise competed with noise from a string of airplanes flying overhead.
State Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat, said that when he was first elected 16 years ago, airplane noise was one of the first issues he heard about.
“Prior to my even being sworn in, my phone rang at 2 a.m. and it was from a constituent, a Milton resident who had been woken up by airplane noise and wanted me to be awake because he was,” Joyce said.
For a while, there was a lull in the complaints, but they started up again in 2011 when the new, focused flight paths were being put into place.
Joyce says he feels frustrated at not being able to make much of a difference on the issue as a state senator. But he has tried to make residents’ complaints heard, and has told as many as he can about the noise complaint hot line.
In the meantime, Joyce’s staff has been studying whether more flights can be diverted over the water as they land or take off, whether certain runways that direct flights over other towns could be used more, and whether the airplanes are flying too low over Milton.
“We’re trying to gather as much data as possible to present a clear picture and irrefutable evidence that this burden is way beyond what should be permitted by the FAA, and present several alternatives that would lessen the burden,” Joyce said.
While noise complaints from Milton increased after implementation of the runway 33L departure route, the vast majority of complaints are related to arrivals on runway 4R, according to Flavio Leo, deputy director of aviation planning and strategy for MassPort.
“If you look at the runway layout, and if you extend the center line from runways 4L and 4R, Milton is basically under that path,” Leo said.
Leo added that the MassPort noise complaint line typically tends to see spikes when there are changes in runway use.
Winthrop saw a sharp spike of complaints to MassPort in 2011, when runway 33L was closed for repairs, sending more flights over Winthrop. That year, there were more than 1,100 calls from Winthrop residents to the hot line, but the number dropped significantly when 33L reopened, Leo said.
Complaint calls will be taken into account in the Boston Logan Airport Noise Study, which is an effort by the FAA, MassPort, and a Citizens Advisory Committee to determine how to best even out noise throughout the metropolitan area, Leo said.
“Milton is at the table with other communities,” Leo said. “Noise doesn’t go away; it just gets shifted. We need to be cognizant of that to find what is the best way to move forward.”
Leo said he hopes the study will be ready to present to the FAA within 18 months.
In Milton, noise is the most commonly discussed issue, but some residents have other concerns as well.
Safety is the chief concern of the Rev. Frank J. Parker, who is staying in the rectory at St. Mary of the Hills Church.
“There are 20,000 students on a school day in the town of Milton,” Parker said. “Putting all those planes over that town is a real safety hazard. There have been crashes in the past.”
No Milton resident interviewed for this story was considering leaving town or moving because of the noise — many had lived in their homes for decades already — but several acknowledged that if they did try to leave, they might find that their property values had been harmed by the planes.
Parker, a real estate professor at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, said property values most definitely are affected by noise.
The noise has even given Milton an unwanted reputation far beyond its borders.
During recent filming of the movie “The Judge,” starring Robert Downey Jr., filmmakers told Johenning that the town is beautiful and that they would love to do more shooting there.
But all the airplane noise, they said, would probably keep that from happening.Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.