“When you’re little and you steal a toy, you get a time out,” Lexington 5th grader Kalea Foo explained to crowds gathered on the steps of the Massachusetts State House on Monday. “But when you steal all of the next generation’s future, you don’t get a single consequence.”
Foo was speaking at a rally to protest the proposed expansion of Hanscom Field, which would add 27 new hangars for the exclusive use of private jets. More than 250 people attended the rally, including many from Lexington.
Private jets are one of the most polluting forms of transportation on the planet, burning at least 10 times as much carbon per passenger as commercial flights. Emissions growth from the Hanscom expansion would completely cancel out all progress made by surrounding towns in their goal to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“Most people don’t fly on private jets, so this proposal would only help a tiny number of people,” Foo said. “But do you know who this proposal would impact negatively? The whole entire population, and especially the next generation, our generation.”
The median wealth of a jet owner is $190 million, according to Chuck Collins, one of the authors of a new report, released Monday to coincide with the rally, which looks at private jet flights to and from Hanscom Field over an 18-month period to better understand the potential impact of the proposed expansion.
The report profiles the most frequent fliers at Hanscom Field, a group led by Charlesbank Partners, a private equity firm that owns three jets that are each among the 20 most frequent fliers. The company’s jets emitted 2,701 tons of carbon in the 18 month period. The average Massachusetts resident has a carbon footprint of 8 tons total per year; globally the average is 4 tons per person.
The study finds that 40 percent of flights from Hanscom were less than an hour long. Because take off is the most fuel intensive part of a flight, these short trips are particularly inefficient, and the most common destinations, like Martha’s Vineyard and Teterboro Airport outside New York City, are easy to reach by ferry, car, or train. Nearly half of the flights were to luxury destinations — including places like Nantucket, Bermuda, West Palm Beach and Palermo, Italy — belying the claim by supporters of the expansion that most flights are for business purposes. As for those flights that are for legitimate business purposes, Collins says, “I have one word for them — Zoom!” referring to the popular teleconferencing platform.
To the suggestion that this protest, staged mostly by residents of wealthy suburbs, is a form of NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard), Collins explains that these planes can’t simply fly in and out of another airport. The planned expansion would take up nearly half a million square feet of space — space that doesn’t exist at nearby Logan Airport. Limiting space at Hanscom — New England’s second largest airport — would have a positive ripple effect, limiting flights throughout the region. It would also set a powerful example for other communities trying to fight private jet expansion.
“Private jet travel is a luxury our climate cannot afford,” said Senator Ed Markey in a statement read on his behalf by Diane Proctor of Concord. Markey recently introduced a bill called the Fueling Alternative Transportation with a Carbon Aviation Tax, or FATCAT, that would make “the jet-setting one percent pay the full cost of their pollution and pay their fair share to use our nation’s airport infrastructure.” Currently, there are no carbon-based taxes — or in Massachusetts, even sales taxes — on private jets, and private jet travel is essentially subsidized by regular commercial fliers, who contribute more of the taxes that fund the Federal Aviation Administration.
State Senator Mike Barrett, who represents Lexington and surrounding towns, suggested that protestors put pressure on the Massachusetts Port Authority, which owns and operates Hanscom.
“In seriously entertaining a proposal to build multiple new hangars for super-polluting private jets at Hanscom Airfield, Massport is on the verge of a stomach-turning two-fer: aiding and abetting the warming of the planet, and pandering to the concentration of private wealth,” Sen. Barrett said. “The organization’s Board of Directors is the Big Decider here. So today we send them a plea: It’s not too late to do the right thing.”
“One of our primary missions is to support Massachusetts-based businesses by providing the infrastructure they need to compete in the global economy,” Massport spokesperson Jennifer Mehigan told the Boston Globe.
Massport is not subject to control by the state legislature, and local towns like Lexington do not have the authority to stop the development. But members of Massport’s board, while independent, are appointed by the governor.
Following the rally on Monday, protesters delivered a petition to Governor Maura Healy’s office asking the governor to “use the full measure of your powers to stop Massport’s expansion plans for private luxury jet capacity at Hanscom Field, a project which will produce hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions, in opposition to every climate goal that our towns, cities, Commonwealth, and the nation are working arduously to achieve.” The petition, signed by more than 10,000 residents, was presented by 5th grader Kalea Foo.
“Each and every private jet flight makes me more scared for our future,” Foo said as she handed over the thick stack of papers to an aide to the governor.
“About a quarter of us in Massachusetts are kids, but we can’t vote and don’t get to make these kinds of decisions.” Foo said. “Our lives depend on you adults doing everything you can to stop private jet expansion at Hanscom.”