Noise worry holds up Logan flight path plans

New flight paths southwest of Boston are designed to be more efficient and save fuel, but they concentrate air traffic.
New flight paths southwest of Boston are designed to be more efficient and save fuel, but they concentrate air traffic.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The benefits of Logan International Airport’s switch to a new GPS-based navigation system are, officials say, quite clear: safer takeoffs and landings; smoother rides; and increased efficiency that translates into millions of barrels of aviation fuel saved.

But the view of residents in communities such as Milton and Dedham is less positive: “Figure out something else,” wrote one in an online petition that has already garnered more than 800 signatures, most in the past week.

Noise is the reason for the opposition. The fierce public outcry has caused delays in the process, which began three years ago and is now almost complete. Public comment has been extended to March 15.


Unhappy residents object to the new plan because the proposed new flight path proposed for Runway 33L — currently spread out over a broad, 3-mile swath — will become a much narrower corridor as planes depart the airport. That means homes directly under that path get noise from all departing flights.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters declined to comment on the concerns brought up by residents, but said the agency “will consider all comments it receives” as it begins the process of switching to the narrower flight path.

Logan officials said the FAA, which designed the new plan, will reassess the path after it is in place for six months and determine whether improvements can be made to limit its effect on the community.

The changes come as part of a comprehensive plan mandated by federal legislation to use technology to increase safety at airports around the country and reduce aviation’s effects on the environment by identifying the most direct routes between airports, potentially saving barrels of fuel per flight.

“It’s really a generational change,” said Flavio Leo, Logan’s deputy director of aviation planning. “There’s a lot of positive and important changes that have happened, and will happen.”


The key lies in using the most direct path for airplanes, rather than having to zigzag between way stations equipped with radar.

The ecofriendly approach also means smoother rides. Rather than using a stair-step technique for descents that burns excessive fuel, the GPS helps planes glide steadily to their destination, more like coasting a car to a stop sign instead of pumping the brakes at the last minute.

But the biggest changes involve flight paths. Under the new system, pilots must now use the GPS to run exact routes to the airport, rather than eyeballing a prescribed path, a decades-old practice that leads to a wider dispersal of airplanes headed in and out of Logan.

For some of Logan’s runways, where automated flight paths have already been introduced, the changes have helped to cut down on noise by positioning flight paths where the fewest number of people will hear airplanes — over the causeway leading to Nahant, for example.

But this new system has a downside: If you live right underneath one of the condensed flight paths, all the air traffic is focused directly over the heads of a few, rather than being spread out over several communities.

“It wasn’t so bad when it was the three-mile radius,” said Milton Selectman Denis Keohane. “But now it’s being concentrated on this one little corridor.”

“It’s almost like a super-highway in the air,” said Ginny Corcoran, 55, a longtime Milton resident concerned about the effects the new flight path will have on her community.


Promises of a review in six months have been little consolation, said Corcoran, for whom the din of passing airplanes is already a too-prevalent part of her home soundtrack.

“All we want them to do is maintain what they currently have,” she said.

Corcoran said she recognizes that everyone in the region benefits from air travel, but she believes the decision to condense air traffic over a route does not fairly distribute the ill-effects of a thriving airport.

Her friends and neighbors, she said, have experienced even worse issues with the noise.

“We’re really shouldering our burden, and we’re not shying away from sharing as part of the herd,” Corcoran said. “But why should we have all the traffic?”

Most of all, residents said, they fear the FAA has not been listening to their issues. At public meetings, Logan Airport officials have heard the deluge of concerns and complaints, but explain that they are not the ones making decisions about the flight paths.

Keohane said he has been frustrated by what he called a lack of communication from the FAA.

“I believe that they’re not giving truthful information,” Keohane said.

Because planes will be 1,000 to 2,000 feet higher than they currently fly, less noise will travel down to residents underneath, said Leo, Logan’s deputy director of aviation planning.

“I understand where the communities are coming from, because certain communities may look at it and say, well, this looks like it’s going to have an impact on me,” he said. “But we really believe the change will be imperceptible or negligible.”


Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.