Airline mulls switch to jets
Plan irks Hanscom Field neighbors
By Davis Bushnell, Globe Correspondent | April 18, 2004
Things had been relatively quiet at Hanscom Field until last week, when Shuttle America's chief executive said the regional airline is considering leasing jet aircraft for all its routes, including the Bedford-Trenton, N.J., run.
"We've been looking into using jets for some time, and we hope to make a decision on that in the next 60 days," Scott Durgin said in an phone interview Monday from the carrier's headquarters in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Richard Walsh, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, owner-operator of Hanscom Field, said the authority has not heard from Shuttle America regarding possible jet operations.
Operating as US Airways Express, Shuttle America has four round trips weekdays between the Bedford airfield and Trenton Mercer County Airport, using 30-passenger turboprop planes. The airline also has about 105 daily flights between Pittsburgh and several cities in the Midwest and Southeast.
The revelation that Shuttle America is mulling a major change in its operations has rekindled concerns among some public officials and commercial aviation opponents, who have criticized any increase in jet activity.
Although he acknowledges opponents' views, Durgin said "it's premature" to discuss the Hanscom Field situation until a decision has been reached on jet operations.
But there's no doubt about the airline industry moving rapidly in the direction of regional jet service, he said, adding "The public is asking for it."
Last year, there were 30,339 takeoffs and landings at the airfield by jets, including private, corporate and charter. That was up from 22,839 in 2001. Companies like Raytheon and Liberty Mutual Group are fueling much of this activity. But up to now none of the commercial airlines that have been at the field have used jets.
The news that Shuttle America might opt for jet operations surprised its Bedford-Trenton rival, Boston-Maine Airways. Boston-Maine inaugurated service to Trenton on March 29, with three round trips weekdays. Starting Tuesday, it will increase its service to seven round trips a day.
"I can't imagine the reception Shuttle America would get" in Bedford and Trenton if the airline does switch over to jets, said Dan Fortnam, marketing and sales vice president for the Portsmouth, N.H.-based carrier, which operates 19-seat turboprop planes. "If they do so, they'd be elevating their challenges" in dealing with opponents, he added.
Fortnam said Boston-Maine will continue to operate turboprop aircraft.
Shuttle America would still need to get approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration before launching jet service, noted Peter Enrich, chairman of the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission. But opening up Hanscom to commercial jet aviation would be something the "area communities wouldn't tolerate," he said. Enrich lives in Lexington.
Commercial jet traffic over Hanscom Field would be particularly "troubling" because this is "a fragile area," with a number of historic landmarks, said Sara Mattes of Lincoln, chairwoman of the Hanscom Area Towns Committee, made up of selectmen from Bedford, Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln. These towns border the airfield.
Anna Winter, executive director of Save Our Heritage, a Concord-based historic preservation group, took her criticism even further.
"It's outrageous to even consider commercial jet service at Hanscom Field, when corporate jets are already having a devastating impact on Minute Man Park, Walden, and many other sites," Winter said in an April 14 prepared statement.
"Our communities, our elected officials, and managers of historic properties are in unanimous agreement on this," Winter continued. "Jet traffic at Hanscom needs to be rolled back, not increased, and Save Our Heritage is developing a new national coalition to help achieve that goal. If Shuttle America tries to bring jets here, it will face a storm of opposition that will make past protests look pale in comparison."
Shuttle America introduced Hanscom Field service in September 1999.
Davis Bushnell can be reached at email@example.com.