In just a week, pilot Jonathan Sabin has collected hundreds of signatures on a petition he is circulating, urging East Hampton Town to do much-needed maintenance at East Hampton Airport.
He said by responding to the aviation community’s plea, town officials could prove they aren’t trying to close the airport—an assertion many are making in light of what they see as neglect of the facility in addition to the Town Board’s recent adoption of regulations aimed at limiting operations there to curb noise complaints.
“The Town Board needs to do something significant to show they’re serious about keeping the airport open,” Mr. Sabin said this week. “I’m very surprised by how many people have stood up and who are willing to discuss the issue.”
As of Tuesday morning, the petition on moveon.org had more than 600 signatures, compared to 722 gathered over four months on another moveon.org petition by resident Barry Holden in support of quieting the airport, which was put online on December 27, 2014.
Mr. Sabin’s petition titled “Keep the East Hampton Airport Open” notes the neglect pilots have seen over the years and requests that the town make a number of updates to make the airport safer, from trimming trees that are making landing more difficult to repaving a runway and installing a new weather system.
Petitioners from across the nation have signed their names and a few have stated their case, like Michael Leeds from East Hampton.
“[The airport] is part of our vital transportation network. It has been in operation for decades. People that bought property near it knew that there would be aircraft noise. Some pilots can be better users just like some neighbors can be better neighbors. However, we should have the airport in good shape for safe operation. It’s a convenience just like a three or four lane road. And, the airport adds jobs and property value to our town.”
James Kelly from Huntington Station also voiced his support to keep the airport up-to-date: “East Hampton Airport is an incredibly important asset to the aviation community, Long Island, Suffolk County, and its residents,” he said. “This airport should not be neglected and should be given the care and attention required to allow its continued use as an effective transport hub.”
Mr. Sabin said the town’s airport master plan addresses several safety issues, such as landing with a crosswind, which can make things a bit more difficult.
“We have fewer options for landing in the wind,” Mr. Sabin said about having only two active runways. “If you have three runways, you’re likely to land directly into the wind.”
Mr. Sabin and other pilots have mentioned their frustration with seeing deer, turkeys and foxes on the runways because there is no deer fence around the property.
“It’s inexplicable after so many years of neglect and so many years of effort to obtain a new airport master plan, specifically calling for certain repairs and maintenance and conformity at the airport,” said Elliott Meisel, a pilot and member of the East Hampton Aviation Association. “We have always worked with the town to coax and cajole them into proper treatment of the facility, but those actions and efforts seem to have failed.”
Mr. Meisel has signed the petition and plans on filing an amicus brief—a statement filed by someone not associated with the litigation, but who wants the opportunity to weigh in on it—with the judge overseeing a complaint that the Friends of the East Hampton Airport filed in January, asking the FAA to direct the town to resolve “critical safety and security gaps” at the airport. This complaint was filed in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against the FAA challenging its ability to waive grant assurances that had been blocking the East Hampton Town Board from restricting access at the airport by certain aircraft.
And while the Town Board is currently working with its consulting engineer, the pilots say they’ve waited long enough and any extra studies are a waste of time and money.
According to town officials, Michael Baker International is finalizing a report on how to deal with the trees and other safety issues at the airport. Town officials say the engineer’s report also is expected to cover the design and cost of installing deer fencing around the entire property, the installation of a weather station, the creation of dedicated approach and departure procedures for helicopters, and the development of a comprehensive and prioritized five-year airport capital improvement program. The town passed a resolution in November to hire Mr. Baker for $26,000 to study and create a plan to remove obstructions at the airport. The company will be compensated for the design work for each project the town moves forward with.
“The Town Board is too focused on spending money on various studies,” Mr. Sabin said. “This is something that has been going on for years and it’s come to a head at this point because of the amount of money they’re going to spend and how they’re going to use airport funds to defend these restrictions.”