Airport officials in Montauk and Southampton say they do not expect problems with increased traffic as a result of proposed restrictions at East Hampton Airport, despite concerns raised by some Montauk residents about a potential change of use at their small, private airport on East Lake Drive.
This week, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell responded to those concerns, saying the town would look into how the other airports may be affected. He said that if the rules are put into place for the coming summer season, the Town Board would assess the impacts later in the season and could tweak the laws.
The supervisor said the Southampton Village heliport may be able to take some additional helicopter traffic if summer flights are severely restricted at East Hampton Airport, as proposed, but the town still must coordinate with Montauk Airport and Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton about possible traffic spillover.
But Perry “Chip” Duryea III, president of Montauk Airport Inc., which owns the private facility, said it is unlikely that the airport could handle more traffic, and he doesn’t see it taking on anymore because of its small size. He couldn’t say how many operations the airport had last year; according to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were more than 30,000 operations in 2013—the majority of those being flights involving locally based aircraft.
“I don’t see it being a point of concern for us,” Mr. Duryea said. “Montauk is a seasonal facility, as opposed to year-round at that East Hampton Airport, and we have only a single runway that is 3,500 feet, as opposed to multiple runways at East Hampton. We do not have a landing system. It seems to me if any restrictions are placed upon East Hampton, it might be Westhampton Beach, which is a much larger airport, that might get some of that excess traffic.”
Southampton Village Administrator Steve Funsch, who is manager of the village’s helipad on Meadow Lane, said he does expect some extra traffic from East Hampton if the new rules go into effect, but he doesn’t think it will be much. “It’s hard to tell,” he said. “We have no plans to change anything but to play it by ear.”
If the Town Board approves the restrictions, there would be a ban on flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. for all types of aircraft; a ban on aircraft labeled as “noisy” year-round from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.; a complete ban on helicopters during holidays and weekends between May 1 and September 30; and more limits on “noisy” aircraft, allowing only two operations in any week during the summer season, meaning one takeoff and one landing.
“Noisy” aircraft would be defined as any airplane or helicopter that has an Effective Perceived Noise in Decibels (EPNdB) approach level of 91.0 or greater. There had been a second provision in the proposal that would have defined “noisy” as 81 decibels for aircraft that didn’t have an EPNdB rating, but that was removed last week.
Decibels are used to measure the magnitude or intensity of sound, while EPNdB is based on how people judge the annoyance of sounds they hear, with corrections for the duration of the event and for pure tones. The FAA uses EPNdB in the certification of large transport planes for federal noise regulations.
The changes would affect 24 percent of all operations at the East Hampton Airport, officials have said, while addressing 67 percent of all complaints.
Some say the new rules could result in a surge in seaplane traffic. Seaplanes generally are not categorized as “noisy,” so they would not be subject to the one-trip-a-week limitations and extended curfews that would curtail helicopter traffic.
Although there are many questions about the regulations that remain unanswered, Mr. Duryea said he doesn’t see the Montauk Airport changing. “All in all we have a much different scenario here than at East Hampton Airport,” he said.
The airport has been up for sale for three years, listed for $18 million, but because it has taken grants from the FAA, it must remain open as an airport through 2020. Additionally, when necessary, the airport must serve as a reliever airport in case of an emergency to take a sudden overflow of traffic from other major airports.
“If a bomb went off at Kennedy Airport, God forbid, traffic may be diverted to Islip, and smaller planes would be shoved out east,” he said. “I don’t see, with the federal grants in place and its reliever status, the profile of Montauk Airport changing.”
Gabreski Airport in Westhampton is a much larger facility, with three runways on its 1,451 acres, as opposed to Montauk’s 40 acres and East Hampton’s 570 acres. In 2012, the airport also had more than 59,000 operations, most of which were transient and military traffic.
Gabreski’s airport manager, Anthony Ceglio, did not return requests for comment this week about what the impact could be on Gabreski and whether the airport could handle more traffic.
Mr. Funsch added that although the Southampton heliport might take some extra landings, he agrees that more traffic would head to Gabreski instead of the other smaller airports.
“I don’t really see it, only because the helipad is in a very remote location,” he said of the village’s landing spot. “Anyone flying into East Hampton would have to get a car service in Southampton and go down Meadow Lane, which has a 25-mph speed limit, and would have to come through the village to get to County Road 39. I think there would be more traffic going to Westhampton Beach, because it’s very accessible to Sunrise Highway.”
The Southampton Village helipad is small, at 44 feet square, and, as it is based in a residential area, has specific landing hours that change four times a year based on the season. During the busy summer season, helicopters can only land between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Last year, the heliport saw approximately 1,000 operations. Mr. Funsch said there has been a slight increase in summer traffic: In July 2013, there were 166 flights; and in July 2014, there were 250.
The village hasn’t taken FAA grants but has worked with the agency on landing patterns to alleviate noise. Since then, complaints have been minimal, just one or two last summer season, according to Mr. Funsch.
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said on Monday that after speaking with Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley and Mr. Funsch, the heliport would have some capacity there for extra traffic, but the town still needs to take a closer look at Montauk and Gabreski airports.
“We’re now going to try to evaluate and extend predictions before we adopt the restrictions,” Mr. Cantwell said. “It’s a difficult issue to address and predict with 100-percent accuracy on how the patterns will change.”
He said he considers the proposed regulations to be interim, and that at the end of the summer, the town will come back and assess exactly how the traffic patterns changed and how the traffic at other area airports changed as a result.