Air traffic into and out of East Hampton Airport ticked up in the summer of 2016 compared to the previous year, though the number of flights by the loudest aircraft—helicopters—continued to decline.
An interim report on the summer traffic from consultants and town staff managing the airport showed an approximately 3-percent increase in traffic thus far in 2016, compared to the same period in 2015. The year prior had seen a decrease in overall air traffic from the first eight months of 2014, the report says.
The number of helicopter flights through the end of August—the report does not include Labor Day weekend, though the percentages compared to the year prior have remained largely consistent—was down about 8 percent from 2015, which had been down 11 percent from 2014.
The decline in helicopter traffic has been credited to the town’s adoption of curfews for especially noisy aircraft, like most helicopters, limiting their use of the airport to mid-morning through mid-afternoon. The curfews, town consultants have said, has led to a shift toward quieter helicopters and the use of other types of aircraft.
The overall decrease in helicopter traffic has been met by an almost commensurate increase in seaplane traffic, since seaplanes are not constrained by the noisy aircraft curfew at the airport and can also make use of Manhattan pickup stations on the East River, in addition to landing on runways in East Hampton.
Despite the increase in overall traffic, the total number of complaints by East End residents about noise from aircraft has thus far again decreased substantially for the second year in a row. The number of complaints dropped 53 percent from the same period of 2015, which had been down 47 percent from the year prior, the report says.
The number of different addresses from which the complaints were generated has also been on the decline, from 630 in 2014, to 584 in 2015, to 360 in 2016.
Board members surmised on Tuesday that some of the decrease in complaints may be due to “complaint fatigue” from residents who have tired of logging into town websites or calling complaint lines each time an aircraft thunders over their homes.
As the town awaits legal rulings on a third regulation it adopted in 2015, which would limit the number of times a single aircraft may use the airport in a given week, town officials and their advisors said earlier this year that the new rules have brought some improvements by nudging operators toward quieter aircraft.
Nonetheless, the most ardent critics of the airport have continued to criticize the town and aircraft operators for the roar of aircraft over their homes. Two groups have formed in recent months that call for the closing of the airport completely. Meanwhile, North Fork residents have continued to harangue the Federal Aviation Administration for continuing to instruct helicopters headed between Manhattan and East Hampton to fly along the northern shore of Long Island and transiting across the Peconics, crossing over North Fork neighborhoods in the process.