Rep. Stephen Lynch addresses the FAA at a hearing.

U.S. Rep. Steve Lynch In Dogfight With FAA Over Logan Airport Route Changes

November 12, 2015

When a member of the U.S. House of Representatives publicly disciplines a federal bureaucrat on behalf of his beleaguered constituents, it can be a bracing display to behold. There’s no blood, but there’s plenty of pain.

South Boston Democrat Rep. Stephen Lynch recently conducted a master class in the process.

After the Federal Aviation Administration failed to respond to repeated complaints from Milton residents in Lynch’s South Shore district about noise from new flight patterns out of Logan Airport, the congressman took action. Lynch moved to cut $25 million intended for public outreach from the FAA’s budget.

"People can't use their backyards and carry on a conversation with their neighbors across the fence," state Rep. Walter Timilty, a Milton resident himself, told WGBH News.

"Certain houses in certain neighborhoods in the town of Milton that were painted white at one time are somewhat discolored now," Timilty said.

Even funerals have been interrupted to wait for planes to pass so mourners can hear the burial service, Timilty said.

Lynch's tactics got results. After a long struggle to work with the agency, the FAA has agreed to participate in an open meeting on December 3 at Milton High School.

Lynch has been trying since 2014 to get the FAA to hold public meetings in Milton and other towns that are affected by the new NextGen navigation system, which uses GPS technology to guide flights on more direct flight paths in and out of the nation's airports, including Logan.

So Lynch went on the offensive against the FAA. Even by Washington standards, $25 million is a lot of money.

Lynch had little luck getting a sit-down with FAA brass until he sponsored an amendment to a funding bill that would have stripped out the funds the agency uses for public outreach.

"Well, outreach is not happening in the 8th Congressional District of Massachusetts, I can tell you right now," Lynch told Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker at a June hearing of the House Oversight Committee, when they were there to talk about drones. "And since you're not doing that job, I'll take that money and put it somewhere else, where someone will actually use it."

Lynch hasn't backed off since.

"We had a little battle down here with the FAA authorization bill and I expressed my concern," Lynch told WGBH News this month. "They weren't doing any outreach, so I thought it was appropriate to cut that from their budget. That got their attention."

The purse strings began to clench and Lynch got his meeting with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta September 28, bringing Timilty along to the Washington sitdown to give the locals' take on the new flight routes.

Timilty said the quality of life in Milton has gone down the last few years as more and more flights dart directly overhead. He calls the flight routing a "horribly inequitable system" that results in noise at all hours and other ill effects of air traffic.

Timilty says he's seen statistics as high as 52 percent of all Logan air traffic going over Milton.

Lynch described the FAA's one local meeting meant to address the impact the new routes as "a formality for the FAA" with no meaningful opportunity for input.

This may have been why Lynch called the FAA "the most unresponsive agency that we deal with in government" at that June Oversight Committee hearing.

According to Lynch, Huerta was very gracious and agreed to a meeting in Milton to look at the health and quality of life impacts the area is facing.

"It takes that one route and that's the optimum route so there's very little variance," Lynch said. "It's basically like a laser. So 550 flights a day are coming over that same house in Milton every single day."

The FAA would not comment to WGBH News specifically about Lynch and Timilty's meeting with Huerta, but offered an April letter from the agency to Lynch's office that discussed several noise-abatement programs both the FAA and MassPort, Logan's owner, have worked on. They don't want to come Milton, but suggest doing a larger meeting in Boston instead.

"We understand the concerns expressed by your constituents and welcome the opportunity to hear from them directly," the letter states. "However, as you know, the FAA and [Logan Airport Community Advisory Committee] President have concerns that holding a meeting in Milton would show deference to one community and not meet the collaborative spirit of the [Boston Logan Airport Noise Study] that has been in place for over 12 years."

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