The East Hampton Town Board is inching closer to completing a process that could allow the town to apply to the federal government for restrictions on helicopter traffic at the East Hampton Airport.
A team of aviation consultants, which included Peter J. Kirsch, the town’s aviation attorney, and a partner at Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP, and Ted Baldwin, a senior vice president of the consulting firm Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., updated the Town Board about airport issues at the board’s work session on Tuesday morning. Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the liaison to airport issues, arranged the meeting.
The consultants told board members that within 18 months, and at a cost of about $1.5 million to $2 million, the town could be in a position to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration for a formal Part 161 study—a mechanism that could ultimately allow the town to restrict noisy helicopter traffic.
Town officials have been collecting data on traffic at the airport in the last year, including criteria like noise complaints, flight tracks, aircraft types and owners, according to Mr. Baldwin. The next step is to integrate that information, find trends and use it to identify problems and come up with potential restrictions, he said. Solutions could include creating a “slot system” where only a fixed number of helicopters could fly in per hour on the weekend, limiting hours at the airport or creating a requirement that helicopters fly at a certain altitude. “We’re looking for guidance from you,” Mr. Baldwin told the board. “It’s time to fish or cut bait.”
Mr. Kirsch advised the Town Board to be precise in defining the “problem.” Just simply saying no noise anywhere won’t work, he said. The data collected must specifically address the problem, he said.
“The more we refine the problem, the better our chance of success is going forward,” Mr. Kirsch said.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson pointed to the up-front cost and asked how likely it would be that the town would be ultimately successful in achieving aircraft restrictions. “What’s the degree of success in a $2 million investment?” he said.
Mr. Kirsch highlighted that “success” doesn’t necessarily have to mean restrictions, and pointed out that it’s possible helicopter operators could come to the table and agree to a number of things “after walking over hot coals.” But he also emphasized that the more broadly defined the problem is, the less successful the process will be.
It could cost the town up to $500,000 to compile the data, Mr. Baldwin said. Airport Manager Jim Brundige said that money isn’t currently in the town’s airport budget.
“That’s wonderful,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “Where are we going to get the $500,000?”
The rest of the presentation covered a number of topics, including the recently established seasonal air traffic control tower, improving data collection technology, new helicopter routes and costs of upcoming projects. The consultants also noted that they have had a continued dialogue with the FAA to secure funding from the federal agency for a perimeter deer fence. The total cost of the fence, with design and construction work, is $655,000, according to a presentation by the consultants. The FAA is waiting for the town to approve a resolution committing to construct a perimeter fence before issuing a grant to the municipality to begin doing so.