Federal Court Says Appeal from FAA Decision on Hanscom Airfield Is Unsupported

OCTOBER 23, 2001

A federal appeals court has denied an appeal for a detailed review of the expansion of commercial air service at Hanscom Field in Bedford, claiming the preservation group that brought the appeal only offered "gauzy generalizations" about why it was needed.

A coalition of preservation groups and towns have long argued that Hanscom's growth into a commercial airport will harm a host of nearby historic sites, which include Revolutionary War battle fields and sites associated with some of America's most important authors.

Save Our Heritage, the group that asked for the appeal, argued that the Federal Aviation Administration should have conducted a review under the National Historic Preservation Act before allowing Shuttle America to fly seven roundtrip flights per day between Hanscom and New York's LaGuardia Airport last fall. Shuttle America spokesman Mark Cestari said the appeals court made the right decision. "Shuttle America has never attempted or wished to change a single rule governing the operations there, or to push the envelope environmentally," Cestari said. He said that Shuttle America's flights constitute less than 5 percent of the total operations at Hanscom.

The appeals court recognized that the FAA's report, which found that the additional flights would not affect the area, could "be overcome by sustained and organized rebuttal." But it also said that "nothing offered by the petitioners approaches such an effort." "Gauzy generalizations and pin-prick criticisms, in the face of such specific findings and a plausible result, are not even a start at a serious assault," the court wrote in its decision.

The court did say that although the additional flights to LaGuardia were a minor increase in Hanscom air traffic, the cumulative effect of future FAA approvals could harm the area. Since the court was "not faced with any such developed claim in this case," it ruled against the preservation group.

Anna Winter, director of Save Our Heritage, said the group took consolation in the court's recognition of the potential impact of increased flights at Hanscom. "We will not rest until our communities obtain meaningful influence over the future of this airport, which lies so close to the birthplace of American freedom and democracy," Winter said. She was philosophical about the group's defeat. "You try every avenue open to you," she said, "And there are going to be paths that lead in the right direction, and there are going to be obstacles. But battles like this are worth fighting."

Shuttle America, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, has halted the LaGuardia service, but Cestari said it hopes to resume the flights eventually.

Commercial service from Hanscom began in 1999, when Shuttle America began running shuttle service to Trenton, N.J., Buffalo, N.Y., and Greensboro, N.C. a total of 10 flights a day. The company said it will begin six roundtrip flights between Hanscom and Philadelphia and five roundtrip flights between Hanscom and Trenton, N.J. on Wednesday.

The Massachusetts Port Authority is pushing for the expansion as part of its continuing efforts to divert some air traffic away from Logan Airport.

Opponents wanted the FAA review to be carried out now, before piecemeal development harms the historic area, which includes Minuteman National Park, the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, and Walden Woods. Shuttle America disagreed. "We have been respectful of Save Our Heritage's position, but we wouldn't have proposed these flights if we felt we could not coexist harmoniously with the towns involved," Cestari said.

Source: Associated Press

See also: Appellate Court Hears Arguments in Hanscom Airport Case (Aug. 2, 2001)