Thoughts on Aviation's Importance and What Might Have Been for Revere

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Reading a press release the other day from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on federal grants for improvements to ten "general aviation" airports in the state, I found myself thinking about the long-vanished airport in the city where I grew up.

The Revere Airport, in existence for only 34 years (1927-61), was located off of Squire Road (Route 60) on a site now mainly occupied by the Northgate Shopping Center.  It adjoined Rumney Marsh, a huge tidal basin and marshland on the back side of Revere Beach.  Within the marsh was a seaplane basin, remnants of which can still be seen from a passing vehicle on the Northeast Expressway.

Decades before tycoons began spinning dreams of travelling to meetings in Boston on seaplanes to the Seaport District, a.k.a. the South Boston Waterfront, there were seaplanes touching down in the great city of Revere, Massachusetts.

When he was looking for something to do with us after church on a Sunday morning, my father would drive with me and two or three of my brothers to the parking lot of the Revere Airport to watch planes take off and land.  An hour of this counted as real fun for kids in late-1950s America.

I don't know what fascinated us most about plane-watching in Revere.  It had something to do, I think, with the size of the planes -- they were so tiny against the immensity of the sky and seemingly so fragile as they bounced down on the runway -- and something to do with the great distances they may have traveled and the unknown places they may have visited.  They were marvelous machines from far away, imagination stokers.

Considering how much aviation and air travel have changed in the nearly 60 years since the demise of the Revere Airport, it's easy to dismiss that time and place as insignificant and quaint.

Had one now-forgotten-but-fate-making decision gone differently, however, we might be talking today about Revere as the home of one of the nation's (and the world's) super-airports and, hence, as an economic powerhouse.  

In 1939, Revere was under serious consideration as the site of Massachusetts's first state airport, a selection that fell to Jeffrey Field in East Boston, and that led, of course, to the colossus we know and depend upon today as Logan International Airport.

Revere Airport and Jeffrey Field did not differ much in 1939.  Revere Airport was a sleepy, small-time operation consisting of 156 acres of mostly empty land.  Jeffrey Field occupied 189 acres of smelly tidal flats, had one runway paved with cinders, and was used primarily as a base for the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Massachusetts Air National Guard, then the poor stepchildren of national defense.

No one could have foreseen in 1939 how important, how incredibly large, how far reaching aviation would become in the modern world, nor predict its contributions to our prosperity and way of life, nor fathom the ways it would affect our understandings of our planet and its distances...

And, as the August 28th press release I mentioned at the beginning attests, it is not just the Logans of the world that matter greatly to us.

There are 38 entities in Massachusetts categorized as "public use airports," not including airports like Logan and Hanscom in Bedford.  Collectively, they support more than 199,000 jobs, with $7.2 billion in total annual payroll, and generate annual economic activity totaling $24.7 billion, according to the 8-28-19 release, ("MassDOT Announces Award of $27 Million in Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program Grants").

The new Airport Improvement Program grants, or AIPS, in Massachusetts were as follows:
  • $904,000 to Barnstable Municipal Airport (Hyannis) to update its Airport Master Plan Study;
  • $1.8 million to Beverly Regional Airport to develop an Airport Master Plan Study and  reconstruct its runway;
  • $13.8 million to Fitchburg Municipal Airport to extend and reconstruct its runway and  rehabilitate its taxiway;
  • $1 million to Martha's Vineyard Airport to acquire an aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicle and conduct an environmental study;
  • $106,000 to New Bedford Regional Airport to install perimeter fencing;
  • $131,855 to North Adams Municipal Airport to install perimeter fencing and conduct a wildlife hazard assessment;
  • $53,550 to Orange Municipal Airport for an environmental assessment pertaining to a new hazard beacon light for navigation;
  • $152,292 to Plymouth Municipal Airport for the demolition of an existing administration building;
  • $2.3 million to Provincetown Municipal Airport to construct a taxiway, install perimeter fencing and do environmental mitigation work;
  • $6.9 million to Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield for runway reconstruction and improvements.
Public use airport projects are eligible for AIP grants if they are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.  Published every two years, this plan identifies public-use airports that are "important to public transportation and also contribute to the needs of civil aviation, national defense and the U.S. Postal Service."

No comments:

Post a Comment