NOVEMBER 20, 2003
A long-simmering feud over aerobatic flying near busy Hanscom Field, just outside Boston, Mass., has reached a new level, as a group of local residents is pressing a million-dollar lawsuit against several pilots based at the airport, alleging that they are creating a noise nuisance.
One of the pilots named in the suit, Steve Pennypacker, told AVweb yesterday that he and his partners are planning to sell their airplane, as a direct result of the pressure. "Flying is just a hobby for me," he said, "but my concern is that this can be used against other pilots. It's a sign that intimidation has won out over rational discussion."
At Hanscom, conflict has deepened in recent years as the airport has been growing, while at the same time the surrounding communities have grown more densely populated and more affluent. Aviation companies from cargo outfits to regional airlines have faced opposition to growth at the airport, as they seek out alternatives to the crowding at Boston's Logan Airport.
The aerobatic pilots in particular have come under increasing pressure as a local group called Stop The Noise (http://www.stopthenoise.org/) has characterized them as "dirt bikers of the air," and pressed their case for quiet with the FAA and local officials. At least 30 complaints were filed with the FAA, but no violations of FAA regulations were found. Mike Goulian, a national aerobatic champion and president of Executive Flyers Aviation (http://executiveflyers.com/), is also named in the suit, and faces tough choices. "It's going to cost us at least $20,000 to $50,000 to fight this," he told AVweb yesterday. "That's a big expense. The worrisome part -- besides the money, and my future and my living -- is the precedent this can set for others nationwide."
Goulian said that pilots had been to meetings with neighbors to try to find equitable solutions to their concerns. "We thought we had some good ideas, and had been making progress," he said. The lawsuit came as a surprise. He has no choice, he said, other than "to just keep fighting it." Pennypacker also said that local pilots have tried to find compromises to satisfy the property owners, but it's been a challenge. "If you look at a sectional chart, the amount of airspace available is really very small," he said. "We've been working with the FAA to try to get waivers and open up more space, but it's not easy." In the five years or so he's been flying in the area, he's seen practice areas go away. "This is not going to get any better," he said.