By John Lynds
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the 9,300-foot centerfield taxiway for Logan Airport that many East Boston and Winthrop residents and elected officials argue would have severe environmental consequences for both communities.
In June 2006, the FAA dismissed alternatives to the proposed centerfield taxiway put forth by Eastie and Winthrop residents and concluded that the alternatives wouldn’t significantly reduce aircraft noise or air pollution in the neighborhoods.
Furthermore, the FAA reported the taxiway would add flexibility for taxiing aircraft and reduce congestion that sometimes leads to runway incursions.
The 16 alternatives proposed by opponents of the taxiway project aimed to ease noise and pollution concerns, but the FAA found these alternatives to have no “significant benefits” for East Boston and Winthrop.
The FAA was required by Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford to meet with a six-member committee composed of residents from the two communities to discuss realistic alternatives to the taxiway that could potentially minimize environmental impacts.
While the FAA held several meetings with this committee, its members argued that the meetings were nothing more than a kangaroo court, and that the FAA had no intention of entertaining the committee’s alternatives to the centerfield taxiway.
Some on the committee, including East Boston resident Ronald Hardaway, said the original consultant hired by the FAA to look into taxiway alternatives was abruptly fired after his findings started to lean in favor of East Boston and Winthrop residents.
“A second consultant was hired, and when its findings favored the centerfield taxiway, that was the consultant the FAA listened to,” said Hardaway at a community meeting last year.
Certain sections of Bayswater Street in East Boston and streets abutting the waterline facing the airport in Winthrop – the area known locally as the Maze – would suffer directly from the taxiway’s function as a replacement for much of Taxiway November’s traffic because it would relocate taxiing aircraft 1,000 feet closer to residential neighborhoods.
While the FAA insists the centerfield taxiway would reduce runway incursions, technology exists to reduce the number of runway incursions and is currently being used at Dallas-Forth Worth Airport with success. Most runway incursions are caused by a lack of situational awareness by pilots on the ground, and Massport and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) both said a centerfield taxiway would significantly reduce runway incursions and make Logan safer.
At Dallas/Forth Worth, airport officials opted to be on the cutting edge of runway technology and began using a new FAA program called Runway Status Lights (RWSL) to reduce incursions at its airfield. Coincidently, a similar program was implemented at Logan 10 years ago but was abruptly abandoned because of glitches in the primitive precursor to the RWSL program.
The RWSL system is a radar-based safety system intended to improve on-airfield situation awareness by providing pilots a visual advisory of runway status. The system consists of a series of stop and go lights on the airport surface that indicate to pilots whether it is safe or unsafe to enter or cross a runway or to begin or hold takeoff. The RWSL system, whose prototype has been undergoing field tests at Dallas-Forth Worth with tremendous success, controls the lights according to target position, status, and logic information derived from the airport movement area safety system. The RWSL are intended as an independent backup to controllers’ assessments and instructions.
“At Logan, the technology was still primitive, and I assume that’s why they stopped using it,” said Dallas-Fort Worth spokesman David Magna. “At Dallas-Fort Worth, we’d like to eliminate runway crossings altogether, but the RWSL system makes pilots aware that another aircraft is taxiing across a runway or in its take-off roll.”
The RWSL received national attention when Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson urged the House and Senate to begin funding RWSL program.
Johnson said safety advocates, pilots, and air traffic controllers have deemed the technology essential in reducing runway incursions at the nation’s 35 busiest airports, including Logan.