Town airport commission seeks to encourage better air service
Grapples with noise from extensive 'air taxi' service to and from Nantucket
By James Kinsella
Not long after Dan Santos, chairman of the Barnstable Airport Commission, began his presentation Wednesday on airport plans, the distinctive drone of a Cessna 402 could be heard inside the Route 132 building in Hyannis where Santos was giving his presentation.
The moment captured much of what faces the airport: its location at the center of the most densely populated, heavily trafficked part of the Cape; its extensive "air taxi" business, mostly carried by the twin-engine 402s and mainly headed to and from Nantucket; and the noise from overhead flights that has been a continuing irritant to nearby neighborhoods and villages.
Now the airport commission is preparing to embark this year on $23 million in improvements, intended to improve the experience of people using the airport and those who live, work and travel nearby. Further, the commission hopes the improvements will encourage more airlines to establish service at the airport.
Santos spoke Wednesday on "Navigating the Future at Barnstable Municipal Airport," a presentation sponsored by Mid-Cape Home Center Complete Home Concepts on Route 132 and hosted by the Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce
State, federal agencies assist with funding
Of the planned funding for the airport improvements, about $21 million will go toward the replacement of the existing main terminal and nearby smaller buildings, as well as an enlarged safety zone for aircraft parked nearby.
The new terminal itself, a 35,000-square-foot, two-story building, will cost $17 million. The new terminal will be built to the southwest of the existing building, which Santos said was tired and more than 50 years old.
The rest of the money will go toward construction of a new airport access road, which will loop behind commercial properties along Route 132 and connect with Airport Road. The road will have airport access only and be closed off from nearby smaller roads, keeping traffic leaving the airport away from the section of Route 132 near the Airport Rotary.
Santos said construction of the road, which will be funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, is scheduled to start in June or July.
Replacement of the terminal is slated to begin in September or October, and is scheduled to take a year to complete.
The Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission has agreed to provide $15 million for the project. The Town of Barnstable will issue $3 million in bonds, with the airport commission contributing $3 million from its coffers.
The commission anticipates that upgrading the airport will encourage improved air service, including the introduction of fairly quiet commercial jets flying to destinations along the Eastern seaboard.
Santos and John Griffin, an airport commission member who attended Wednesday's presentation, also discussed a series of further capital improvements planned for the airport, including an extension of one of the two main runways, the construction of a new air control tower and reconstruction of several taxiways.
Airport officials mull extending runway
These proposals are not yet set in concrete, and can shift and change. Santos said he wants to encourage the public's participation in the continuing discussions.
Griffin said the longer runway would allow airplanes to get up into the air more quickly, cutting down on the noise they generate on take-off.
The airport commissioners also were encouraged by Island Air's recent acquisition of a Cessna Grand Caravan. Though certified for the same number of passengers, nine, as a Cessna 402, the Grand Caravan is roomier, can carry more cargo, and is 40 to 60 percent quieter than a 402.
Although the aircraft costs more - Santos estimates an airline could acquire six 402s for the price of a Grand Caravan - the airport commission hopes more aircraft of this nature will be joining the airport's air taxi fleet.
Noise remains a major bugaboo between the airport and nearby residents.
One of those residents, Bill Cronin, said he bought a home about 13 years on South Street in Hyannis.
In the past four to five years, Cronin said, the noise has gotten especially bad. He said his complaints have been answered with a form letter.
"My impression is that the airport doesn't care about its neighbors," Cronin said.
Santos, who said he grew up near an airport and often hears aircraft flying over his home in Cummaquid, said: "I appreciate what you're saying... We're doing a lot to make it better."
He said the airport now can connect particular flights to the noise they generate, and stays in touch with the airlines about taking steps to whenever fly over less densely populated areas.
But because Barnstable is a general service airport, Santos said, the airport isn't allowed to set curfews. If an aircraft wants to take off from the airport at 4 a.m., it can do so, he said.
Bornstein questions access road design
Developer Stuart Bornstein questioned the route of the access road and its lack of outside access, which he said simply will take many drivers from the east "on a jolly ride" farther west, forcing them to come back through heading east anyway.
Santos replied that the Barnstable and Cape Cod Commission officials refused to accept any access road intersections before Route 132, citing heavy traffic on that section of the highway.
As for those who call for moving the Cape's de facto main airport to the former Otis Air Force Base, Griffin said, "Be careful what you wish for."
The base, he said, could offer flights a 9,500-foot-long runway, much longer than those at Hyannis, and opening the door to much larger aircraft visiting Cape Cod on a much more frequent basis.