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Apr 16, 2015 8:26 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Aviation Groups Sue East Hampton Town In Effort To Block Recently Approved Airport Restrictions

Apr 21, 2015 1:09 PM

Friends of the East Hampton Airport, a group that represents aviation businesses, filed suit against the Town of East Hampton for adopting a package of new restrictions designed to reduce noise generated by air traffic at the East Hampton Airport.

The East Hampton Town Board adopted the restrictions on Thursday, April 16, to applause from noise-affected residents who have complained for years about disruptions to their quality of life from traffic at the airport, most notably from a significant increase in helicopter traffic in recent years.

But on Tuesday, Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the Friends of the East Hampton Airport, announced that the group had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to halt the restrictions, which were set to begin on May 1. A jury trial is demanded.

“It is deeply unfortunate that we were forced to sue to stop the town’s actions,” Mr. Riegelhaupt said in a statement. “It is a course that we concluded we had no alternative but to pursue after months of trying, without success, to convince the town to follow its obligations under federal aviation law. FOEHA remains steadfastly committed to preserving East Hampton Airport’s vitality and accessibility to the public.”

According to East Hampton Town, the regulations are expected affect 75 percent of helicopter operations and 73 percent of associated complaints on weekends and holidays during the summer season alone.

Starting this summer, there would be a curfew banning all flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., year-round. Aircraft classified as “noisy” would not be permitted to take off or land between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m., year-round. Furthermore, aircraft classified as “noisy” would be allowed only one takeoff and landing per week between May and September.

The Town Board has defined “noisy” aircraft as any airplane or helicopter that has an Effective Perceived Noise in Decibels (EPNdB) approach level of 91.0 or greater based on noise characteristics published by the Federal Aviation Administration or the European Aviation Safety Agency. Lighter single- and twin-engine general aviation and commercial aircraft, which are rarely the cause of noise complaints, would be excluded from the distinction, but most helicopters and larger turbo propeller airplanes and bigger jets would surpass the 91 decibel limit.

Both of the curfews gained unanimous support from the board, but Town Councilman Fred Overton dissented on the vote for the one-trip limit, saying it would create a major problem for the airport and its users and increase the risk of litigation. Instead, he would have preferred to see an incremental approach.

“This restriction will seriously inconvenience airport users and I’m not yet convinced it will produce as many benefits as my colleagues believe,” he said. “I would prefer that the balancing is done in a manner that slightly favors users of the airport. We need to be realistic about litigation. I believe the more restrictions we adopt, the greater the cost and complexity of litigation. We cannot prevent litigation, but we can reduce the number of parties who have incentive to sue.”

The Friends of the East Hampton Airport lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the regulations from being put in place. The suit states that the restrictions violate and conflict with federal law and policy and place an unduly burden on interstate commerce. Furthermore, local governments have no authority to use their “police powers” to regulate aircraft in flight or to impose airport noise or access restrictions, it states. Finally, the lawsuit argues that local airport proprietors have no authority to impose noise or access restrictions unless such regulations comply and conform with federal law and policy, and are otherwise reasonable, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory. The aviators argue that the town must get permission from the Federal Aviation Association before the regulations can be moved forward.

At the heart of the issue is the impact the rules may have on the aviation businesses that have filed suit: Analar Corporation, Heliflite Shares, Liberty Helicopter—all of New Jersey, and Associated Aircraft Group of Wappingers Falls, Eleventh Street Aviation of Ohio and New York, Helicopter Association International of Virginia, and Sound Aircraft Services, the fix-based operator at East Hampton Airport.

“The Restrictions will cause serious and irreparable harm to the Plaintiff helicopter operators,” the lawsuit states. All of these Plaintiffs provide charter helicopter services to and from East Hampton Airport, and those flights account for a significant portion of their annual operations and revenues. Moreover, the vast majority of those flights occur from May through September. Because their aircraft are now deemed ‘Noisy Aircraft’ under the Restrictions, their access to East Hampton will be severely restricted, devastating their charter businesses.”

This week, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell remained confident in the Town Board’s decision. He said he thinks the board made its best effort to provide relief to the noise-affected residents of East Hampton Town and the surrounding areas, despite threats of litigation.

“The opponents who might sue over this, state the town can’t afford to operate with the restrictions and pay for litigation, while they are part of the reason why the litigation cost will be incurred,” he said. “Having gone through this process for the past year and a half, it’s clear that the town must do a much better job of managing and maintaining the airport. There is no perfect solution to this. If we’re going to have a real reduction on the impact from helicopter noise, it requires some tough medicine, and we’ve taken that step.”

Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, asked the Town Board to keep its word on measuring the impacts the regulations will have on the surrounding airports and the community. Mr. Samuelson had voiced his concern about traffic diversion or aircraft spillover to the Montauk Airport this summer based on the regulations.

“The frank reality is that we have a noise problem now and we’re still going to have a noise problem after this legislation goes through. It’s not a magic wand,” he said. “I ask you to stand by your commitments. I think you will be thankful when you take that look back.”

On Thursday, May 7, the Town Board will have a public hearing on proposed penalties for those who violate the restrictions. For the first violation by an individual aircraft, the Town Board proposes a maximum fine of $1,000; for the second violation a fine of no more than $4,000; for the third violation, a maximum of $10,000 would be imposed; and the fourth violation would result in the aircraft being banned from using the airport for up to two years.

Aviator Bruno Schreck said not only was he concerned about the regulations, but now he is worried about the violations he and other pilots could incur.

“If you’re stuck in the ether out west, and you show up half an hour late because of the weather, you can’t get home without paying a $1,000 fine,” he said. “How many times in the summer are we going to have bad enough weather that you’re not going to pay [$4,000] the next time? It sounds like you’re about to rule on something that hasn’t been fully thought out. It’s a rush to judgment and we’re about to pay a price and we don’t even know what it is.”

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Thank you East Hampton for a well vetted and balanced decision!
By Split Rock (68), North Haven on Apr 16, 15 8:43 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thank you East Hampton for a well vetted and balanced decision!
By Split Rock (68), North Haven on Apr 16, 15 8:43 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thank you EH Town Board (the vote was 4 to 1) for passing these proposals which should bring some relief to residents of all towns. Although many remain bitterly disappointed about the board dropping the helicopter ban , they may revisit that decision later in the season. Helicopter traffic remains the issue for many and crafty operators are certain to fin ways to avoid the one round trip per week restriction.
By Trish (90), Sag Harbor on Apr 17, 15 7:12 AM
Now Hampton Bays is going to sound like a war zone. Cockroaches don't go away; they relocate. The Door Mat of the Hamptons is now going to become the Air Space to the Hamptons unless this is nipped in the bud right now.
By SHPredatorDept (72), Southampton on Apr 17, 15 8:01 AM
1 member liked this comment
Just say NO dude. There is no reason any hard working east end resident should be forced to deal with commuter aircraft noise.
East Hampton elected people who care. You can do the same.
By Amelia Airport (48), East Hampton on Apr 17, 15 1:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
Banning all helicopters and seaplanes would be great. EH will reduce helicpter traffic but the volume of seaplanes flying over our Water Mill home is just as great a problem. Drive the LIE like the rest of us.
By erbeil (1), Water Mill on Apr 17, 15 8:46 AM
2 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Amelia Airport (48), East Hampton on Apr 17, 15 1:36 PM
Thank you East Hampton Town Board for your thoughtful approach to this problem and for your decision to approve these 3 restrictions. This is heartening news for noise afflicted communities everywhere and a reminder that achieving what the aviation industry calls "a balanced approach" requires careful study *and* action.
By Mark M (3), Arlington on Apr 17, 15 11:43 AM
No more heli in the Hamptons,small planes is more than enough!!
By dany (28), Water Mill on Apr 17, 15 12:55 PM
The industry really bit themselves on this one. They saw it coming -blaring them right in the face - but instead of taking reasonable steps to work with the affected communities and show good faith, even as the uproar grew daily, they doubled down, stated that there was no problem that had to be dealt with; that it was their g-d given right to fly about wherever and whenever; that the FCC would stop any action; that it will ruin the east end economy; that they would sue the town into oblivion, on ...more
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Apr 17, 15 3:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
Is there a complaint line for the Southampton Village heliport? If so could someone please post it. Thanks.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Apr 17, 15 4:22 PM
Not unless you demand one. Please do.

And apparently this news organization, run by a pilot, doesn't like complaint numbers posted.
By we could run this town! (129), the oceanfront trailer park on Apr 17, 15 10:24 PM
Thank You EH Town Board for listening to the people. Looking forward to a more restful summer. I hope!
By North Sea Citizen (527), North Sea on Apr 18, 15 7:44 AM
As a former aircraft charter broker we were not allowed to book any jet into East Hampton due to the short runway. Part 135 operators need at least 5,000 feet East Hampton airport runway is less than 4,400 feet. Why is any jet aircraft allowed?
By Wainscott Joel (1), Wainscott on Apr 18, 15 11:52 AM
1 member liked this comment
not all P135 operators are limited to that 5000' runway need.
... some aircraft are performance limited to length of runway...Some jet aircraft outperform others...Such as Falcons... A big question is, what about the based jets at HTO?.. There are several.
By hto (12), sag harbor on Apr 18, 15 12:43 PM
Great job EH Board. Now please defeat the lawsuits from "Hellycopter" lobby and set a precedent so that we can get rid of tourist hellys in NYC.
By JCHeli Senshi (3), on Apr 19, 15 7:35 PM
I can think of no place in the USA where there lies a larger concentration of awful people than the East End of Long Island. The place is a disgusting overdeveloped, overpriced, overcrowded freakshow filled with vulgarians, poseurs and prostitutes who head OUT EAST (as they pretentiously refer to it) like lemmings to the sea. The Townies, mostly predatory parasites who would pave the place for profit, are no better.
By thewiseking (16), Montauk on Apr 20, 15 6:11 PM
1 member liked this comment
Don't let the door hit you in your sorry ass on the way out!!
By bigfresh (4237), north sea on Apr 20, 15 6:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
to thewiseking:

Perhaps. On the other hand, there is that spectacular white sand beach that goes on for miles and miles, and the invigorating, ionized salt air, and the inspiring seascape, and the soothing surf, and the seabirds, and the aquatic critters - - - and the fact that there are few to no people around for nine months of the year.

You will not find a more appealing aspect anywhere in the world. You will miss it when you leave.
By highhatsize (3958), East Quogue on Apr 20, 15 6:35 PM
So nice of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP to let David Gruber write the response to the lawsuit! Wonder if they will let him sit lead counsel?
By kevinlocal (47), wainscott on Apr 21, 15 10:44 PM
1 member liked this comment