[This article appeared in the editorial section of The Boston Globe on March 10, 1999.]
The Burden of Proof is on Massport
March 10, 1999 -- Massport is proposing to construct runway 14/32, which the agency admits will triple airplane noise in Chelsea, South Boston's Andrew Square, Roxbury, East Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, Belmont, the South End and Jamaica Plain - communities already seriously burdened by the thunderous noise of air traffic. Massport officials tell us that 14/32 will decrease delays at Logan. They also acknowledge that 14/32 and the additional flights it represents will only postpone the full onset of the problem for approximately five years. By their own admission, another runway is a short-term remedy, at best.
If 14/32 will not permanently reduce delays, then we shouldn't build it. The detrimental impact on our neighborhoods is too great. The burden of proof is on Massport to explain why there is a genuine need for 14/32 when it will drastically increase airplane noise in many communities and doesn't even represent a permanent solution to the problem before us. I do not believe that Massport has done nearly enough to meet that burden.
I've spent considerable time recently in neighborhoods impacted by 14/32. Residents have repeatedly expressed the same concern: they just do not trust Massport. Massport has pledged that this runway will remain unidirectional. Well, who is going to enforce this pledge? And why should residents believe Massport anyway when this very proposal requires the undoing of a 1975 court injunction against building 14/32 in the first place? Neighborhood residents also point to the fact that Massport has not followed through on plans for MBTA blue line improvements and buffer parks.
Massport says that because 14/32 is a shorter runway, it can only be used for smaller aircraft. Small planes exacerbate delays at Logan, while providing only limited passenger capacity. If the airlines were required to rely on slightly larger aircraft rather than more frequent flights to meet the demands of smaller markets, delays would decline. Massport should be working to encourage this. Why then, would Massport propose a shorter runway (14/32), thus encouraging the use of the very aircraft that contribute to Logan's delay problems?
Massport was also going to experiment with peak pricing (requiring airlines to pay higher landing fees during peak travel hours) as a way to encourage a more evenly spread out flight schedule, thereby reducing delays. What happened to that idea? Massport should reconsider trying peak hour pricing as a way to discourage smaller aircraft from landing at Logan during peak traffic periods, and to create an incentive for the use of alternative airports. This might also encourage consolidation of commuter flights into smaller numbers of slightly larger aircraft, as mentioned above. Massport seems to have ignored the option of peak pricing. Why would Massport ignore this potential solution when their own studies indicate that by 2010, peak pricing will prove more effective in reducing delays than the runway plan?
Runway space is not the only factor currently contributing to delays. Terminal space at Logan is also limited, so delays in ticketing and baggage handling can be substantial. Furthermore, aircraft often wait on the tarmac for an available gate, delaying that flight as well as others. If people have trouble getting through the terminals and planes have trouble getting to the terminals, what sense does it make to bring in more planes and more passengers?
The most effective way to reduce noise is to reduce the number of flights to and from Logan. In contrast, everyone wants to find a way to increase access to Greater Boston. In order to meet both of these goals, it seems obvious that Massport must follow the lead of most major markets such as New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. - increased reliance on secondary airports. The benefits of Logan help everyone in Eastern Massachusetts, shouldn't the burden be shared as well? Massport should be doing all it can to encourage the growth of other airports to serve the Eastern Massachusetts market.
I urge Massport officials to go back to the drawing board and develop a proposal that fully addresses the reasons behind the delay dilemma. It must include a review of terminal space, aircraft size, peak pricing, regionalization and other alternatives. Only then will the residents of Greater Boston feel that they are being presented with all the facts. And only then will the neighborhoods feel that Massport has made a good faith effort to address their concerns.
BY: Representative Michael E. Capuano