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While stopped at a traffic light in front of Medford High School on Winthrop Street Feb. 2, Luke Preisner snapped this photo of a plane departing Logan, flying over Medford, and headed toward Winchester.
While stopped at a traffic light in front of Medford High School on Winthrop Street Feb. 2, Luke Preisner snapped this photo of a plane departing Logan, flying over Medford, and headed toward Winchester. Luke Preisner photo

On a recent Monday, more than 40 planes departing from Logan International Airport flew directly over Medford — some at altitudes of less than 2,000 feet — with noise echoing in parts of Malden and Somerville. They started taking off before 6 a.m. and continued after midnight.

On days like this, Medford resident Maryann Aberg feels like she’s living next to a runway, instead of more than 7 miles away.

“The noise can be so bad that our windows and floors rattle, and we can’t carry on conversations,” Aberg said.

The problem began in 2013, when the Federal Aviation Administration implemented a series of new procedures called the Next Generation Air Transportation System that aimed to increase plane safety and efficiency.

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Such changes included using satellite-based routes instead of radar for more precise flight navigation, and having planes fly at lower altitudes longer while making their ascents. The new procedures meant more concentrated flight paths that, while more efficient for the airlines, resulted in a surge in noise pollution in communities close to airports across the country.

North of Boston, the communities impacted include Medford, Somerville, and Winchester. Planes flying north and west of Logan now often fly directly over Everett and Medford before changing course, either turning westward toward Somerville, or north over Winchester, Woburn, and beyond.

“I never made a single complaint until four years ago,” said Peter Houk, who has lived in Medford for close to 20 years. “Then we started getting every plane that turned north over the waypoint, over my house.”

Houk began calling anyone in power who might listen, and ended up becoming one of Medford’s representatives on the Massport Community Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from 35 cities and towns in Greater Boston.

One of Houk’s primary duties as a volunteer member of the committee is to field complaints from residents impacted by the noise.

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“A guy who’s a nurse called me and said, ‘I have to get up at 4 a.m. anyway to get to the hospital. I can’t sleep and then I have to deal with my patients all day,’ ” Houk recounted. “It just really kills me that there are people who are important to our lives, like nurses, and some fraction of whom are not sleeping well because of this noise.”

In February, Massport logged 328 official noise complaintsfrom 66 Medford residents. Out of 48 communities reporting at least one noise disturbance, Medford had the highest number of residents complaining, and only Milton tallied a higher number of total complaints (948).

The residents most affected by takeoff noise live around Medford Square and in the surrounding neighborhoods of Glenwood, Hillside, the Lawrence Estates, Wellington, and South Medford.

Anthony Voner, who has lived in Medford for more than 20 years, said he doesn’t think reporting the noise would reduce the number of planes flying low over his house.

“Especially around here, complaints go on deaf ears,” Voner said. “I’m only one little person.”

But Houk said he thinks there are hundreds more residents like Voner, who are impacted by the noise, but don’t contact anyone about it.

“It’s not just a fraction of sensitive people,” Houk said.

The number of planes flying over Medford increases dramatically on days when the wind is blowing northwest. Planes then use a specific runway — 33L — to take off.

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Pilots are instructed to take off from that runway most often “in the winter, early spring, and late fall, when you get the cold wind from Canada,” said Flavio Leo, Massport’s director of aviation planning and strategy.

In 2017, Leo said, departures on runway 33L accounted for 48,000 flights, or 12 percent of Logan’s 400,000 departures and arrivals.

One day in February of last year, Aberg, who is retired but writing a book, counted 110 planes going over her home in the span of six hours. She knew she couldn’t be alone, and so she formed the Logan Aircraft-Noise Working Group.

“I realized that nothing was going to happen if I didn’t form my own group,” she said.

Approximately 300 people attended the group’s most recent meeting. In between meetings, Aberg said members are active on the organization’s Google Groups page, discussing potential solutions to the problem.

One of the most promising remedies is a two-phase study being undertaken by doctoral students and engineering professors at MIT. The goal of the study is to identify potential changes the FAA could make to the navigation system to lessen the impact that plane noise has on communities in the region.

“They’ve come up with some ideas we think are really interesting and have a good chance of being implemented, but they still have to go under FAA review,” said Massport’s Leo.

“Having an aviation industry more attuned to the needs of the people on the ground who have to take on this burden would go a long way,” said David Carlon of Hull, the chair of the Massport Community Advisory Committee.

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Carlon said he categorizes the residents of Medford as dealing with “relatively new noise,” as compared to residents of the South Shore, who have dealt with low-flying departures and arrivals for far longer.

“It’s a significant increase over what they’ve had in the past, and concentrated,” he said.

Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke said the concentration of noise is what impacts residents the most. The city bought a noise monitor and placed it on top of the Andrews Middle School off the Mystic Valley Parkway so it could collect its own data and compare it to Massport’s.

“We are directly under the path in the sky,” Burke said. “We appreciate being close to Logan but we shouldn’t have to have it all on our shoulders. All the communities in metro Boston should be sharing the burden.”


Gail Waterhouse can be reached at gwaterhouse08
@gmail.com
.