Hangar Project Foes Say Fuel Deliveries Point to More Jet Flights

March 7, 2024

Proponents of nearly a half-million square feet of additional hangar space near Hartwell Road maintain that the additional storage will not result in additional air traffic beyond current projections.

But speakers at Monday’s public meeting on the project pointed out that projected fuel deliveries to a proposed Hartwell Road storage site represent as much as a 50 percent increase of gallons delivered to the entire airport last year.

Monday’s session at Middlesex Community College was hosted by North Airfield Ventures as a prelude to completion of its required draft environmental impact report, expected to be delivered to state government later this month after more than a year of preparation. 

The 17 hangars comprise almost 500,000 sq. ft of hangar space, including about 80,000 sq. ft in the rehabilitated adjacent Navy hangar. The plan is a response to the Massachusetts Port Authority’s open-ended request for proposals in the summer of 2021.

Opposition to the plans has galvanized around the negative environmental impact of increased private jet traffic. 

The presentation on Monday was similar to the one delivered last month at a meeting of the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission. 

Atty. Jeffrey Mullan said on behalf of the developer that the hangars are planned as a repository for aircraft and will not create new demand, but only accommodate projected growth based on the regional economy.

Russ Arena, director of the Massachusetts Business Aviation Association, compared the hangar complex to a public storage facility. He says his own plane is sometimes idle for as long as two months. “I totally understand your concerns, but it’s not as dramatic as it may appear to be.” 

Historically, “increases in hangar space have not led to increases in aircraft operations,” said Lauren DeVoe of VHB, a member of the development team. She said the additional facilities will result in an average increase of 12 daily operations (a landing and a takeoff are counted as separate “operations”). “These are flights already included in estimates,” she said, and will occur regardless of this project.

But several speakers sought to reconcile that assessment with planned fuel consumption.

Sharon Williams, Hanscom’s manager of airport administration, answered a question by Lincoln resident Anne Sobol, saying the airport received between 11 million and 12 million gallons of fuel last year.

The projected Hartwell Road deliveries of one to two 10,000 gallon trucks per day – using 15,000 gallons as a daily average – compute to almost 5.5 million gallons over the course of a year. Even if the deliveries are limited to weekdays, the total is more than 3.9 million gallons of what appears to be additional fuel.

There were multiple explanations of the discrepancy. One spokesman said the airport needs to have fuel reserves available in case of a “spike” in demand. Another explanation, by Rick Muse, operations manager for the hangar complex, was that there will be a “rebalance” among the fuel distribution on the entire airfield. Current fuel-storage areas are near fixed-base operators that geographically are in Concord and Lincoln.

Christopher Eliot of Lincoln, who chairs the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission, pointed out that the anticipated additional fuel delivery converts to 326.7 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. 

“The entire town of Lincoln produces 164 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year,” Eliot said. “The proponents say this will produce twice the amount per day than my entire town. That can’t be minimized.”

The Environmental Protection Agency defines CO2e metric as “the combination of the pollutants that contribute to climate change adjusted using their global warming potential.”

Another rationale that the developer and Massport have used to explain the need for storage space is what they describe as “ferry fights” in which a pilot has to depart after dropping off a passenger because of a lack of overnight aircraft storage space.

State environmental officials directed the developer to document the impact of ferry flights in the impact report. A consultant, Kate Larson of Burlington-based HMMH, told the meeting that her firm used four criteria over an 18-month span to estimate the number: a business aircraft, a turnaround time of less than 18 hours, a destination within 350 miles, and an owner that is not a Hanscom Field tenant. She said about 3,000 annual flights met the four criteria.

But Eliot said that the data “don’t show any actual ferry flights. Go talk to a pilot. Do a deeper analysis.” 

Bedford State Rep. Kenneth Gordon said the breakdown didn’t reflect that a ferry flight is “two trips when one can suffice.” 

Larson acknowledged that the results are estimates and not direct knowledge of the purpose of each flight.

The most incisive comments on Monday were delivered by State Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, whose district includes parts of all four towns contiguous to the airport.

Barrett, who flagged the impact on air quality as soon as the project was announced in 2022, testified Monday that increasing demand is assumed because “you’re catering to demand. You have every right to be venal and profit-seeking because your focus is relatively narrow. A lot of private sector activity provides a needed service. You are neither generating a service that a lot of us need or want or producing a product. You cater to a small niche of the richest people in Massachusetts.”

Barrett said the developer’s references to green infrastructure, including provisions for servicing electric aircraft, are “bogus environmental rationales that has nothing to do with the crisis. This is about becoming a little richer yourselves by helping people even richer than you.”

Mullan had said that the project is “a national model for innovative and sustainable design,” and “aligns consistently with the post authority’s net zero roadmap.”

Bedford residents offered additional comments. Jean Rabovsky expressed concern about emission of ultrafine particles that can “go deep into the lungs and have access to the bloodstream.” DeVoe said there are no federal standards to which these particles can be measured.

Tom Flannery, who heads the homeowners’ association at Hartwell Farms, the residential area closest to the project site, asked how it will benefit “those living within a five-mile radius.” 

Mullan acknowledged that any benefits “would be very limited. This is addressing a need identified by Massport driven by the national and regional economy. It is not a micro project where an individual property owner would see a particular benefit.”

At the close of the 150-minute session, Mullan said, “We are going to follow up on a number of key issues. We know we’ve got to do a better job of explaining some of these issues.”

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