Coalition Assembling to Combat Proposed Hanscom Hangar Project

May 25, 2023
The old Navy hangar off Hartwell Road is part of the Hanscom Field hangar expansion plan that the advocacy group Save Our Heritage opposes. Photo: Robert Dorer

A Concord-based advocacy group is spearheading a coalition of area organizations in opposition to a massive hangar expansion on the north fringe of Hanscom Field off Hartwell Road in Bedford.

And according to the president of Save Our Heritage, the only effective target of the campaign is Gov. Maura Healey.

Neil Rasmussen briefed area reporters as the coalition was formally announced on Wednesday afternoon. He said that since the owner of Hanscom Field, the Massachusetts Port Authority, is exempt from local and legislative regulation, “The governor is the only option to stop this” because “the governor appoints all of the people who make the decisions.”

Last summer, Massport awarded a contract for hangar construction to two limited liability companies in response to a request for proposals. Early this year, the developer announced plans for almost 500,000 square feet of hangar space – all of it new except for about 86,000 square feet in a rehabilitated adjacent Navy hangar.

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The project was assessed under provisions of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, which requires a detailed environmental impact report. That is not expected to be completed until the fall.

Save Our Heritage and its coalition base their opposition on the likelihood of substantial additional greenhouse gases generated by additional private jets housed at Hanscom Field. The group maintains that the issue transcends geography, and is trying to broaden its range of coalition partners. 

“We have been involved with Hanscom Field for many, many years, but primarily concerning the impact on historic and natural resources,” Rasmussen said. “Because of that focus, we have gotten to know a lot about how the airport works. So, when this issue came up people immediately turned to us.”

Kati Winchell of Lincoln, projects director for Save Our Heritage, said there are 22 organizations in the coalition and it’s growing. “There’s a great deal of coordinating and coalescing activities and actions in opposition. This is not a Hanscom area-specific issue, this is a climate issue, a statewide initiative.” 

The group’s name is Stop Private Jet Expansion at Hanscom or Anywhere.

The proposed development is “the biggest thing that ever happened at Hanscom Field,” Rasmussen said, and would “relieve capacity constraints.” Massport, he said, plans “for more growth of private jet flights, and they want to make sure they can accommodate it.” 

There is a current backlog for hangar space, he said, so “this is about catching up and accommodating more for the future.”

Rasmussen calculated the impact of current jet traffic. He said 38,100 jet takeoffs and landings last year used 330 gallons of fuel per hour with an estimated two-and-a-half hours per flight. He said one gallon emits 11.9 kilograms of carbon dioxide with a total impact for the year of some 752,000 tons of what is called CO2e, which the Environmental Protection Agency defines as “the number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential as one metric ton of another greenhouse gas.”

Meanwhile, he said, state government is committed to the achievement of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and “people are going to have to make sacrifices if we really are going to do this.

“All the gains we’re working so hard to achieve in our towns are completely negated and wiped out by the growth of jets at Hanscom Field,” he asserted.

“The public is not being served by these activities,” Rasmussen stated. The private jets are owned by wealthy individuals who often use them to travel to resorts. “They call them business jets, but they’re really luxury jets. We should all care if they are spewing out more CO2e in the atmosphere than half of our community does in an entire year.”

Rasmussen pointed out that under federal law, Massport cannot limit or surcharge jet aviation. The discretion, he said, is “whether or not to build stuff. On this issue, they decided to move ahead. Somebody has to tell Massport to stop.” In its press release announcing the coalition Wednesday, Save Our Heritage claimed that the construction “would triple the private luxury jet hangar capacity at Hanscom.”

“We shouldn’t be building this stuff anywhere,” he said. “The core of what we need to do is getting people lined up, local and state officials saying the same thing. Massport is happy if everybody complains about something different.”

None of the 22 groups aligned with the coalition is a government agency. The Bedford affiliates are Mothers Out Front, the League of Women Voters, the Environmental Justice Committee of First Parish, and the local chapter of Third Act. Most of the other climate, environmental, and preservation organizations are from the four contiguous Hanscom towns, although there are three statewide members and another from MetroWest.

Rasmussen said successful constraint at Hanscom Field could have a domino effect on “the entire luxury jet system. Private jets are a decision that people make because of convenience and luxury. We can have an effect and slow this thing down before it spirals out of control.”

He pointed out that Massport has suggested the increased capacity could actually reduce operations, as it would eliminate flights by aircraft dropping off passengers and then taking off to find parking for the night elsewhere. “They haven’t provided any data to support that,” he said, adding, “The builder is expecting a big growth. It’s against common sense to increase capacity and the flights don’t go up.” The private jet industry is forecasting 10 percent growth nationally, he noted.

Although total operations at Hanscom Field are declining, he acknowledged, that represents the drop in “little propeller planes.” And Port Authority overhead and regulations make it more difficult to own those small planes, he added.

Rasmussen also said State Sen. Michael Barrett’s call for banning aircraft that use fossil fuels from the new hangar is not a realistic solution because neither electric jets nor “sustainable alternative fuels” are on the horizon.

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Kathryn Rifkin
May 27, 2023 3:36 pm

Rasmussan may say that EV is not realistic, yet Sweden and Denmark are mandating EV only for domestic flights by 2030 and France mandating EV by 2040. So we can do the same – mandate that no new infrastructure be for fossil-fuel use, that all new infrastructure will only accommodate EV.

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