The Federal Aviation Administration enacted a rule earlier this week that creates a new class of helicopter that only can be regulated in grant-obligated airports, such as East Hampton Airport, with FAA approval, according to a release issued by East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, liaison to the East Hampton Airport Planning Committee—an “additional hurdle” for the airport, she said.
Stage 3 aircraft, according to the new designation, are those that have the “latest available noise reduction technology” in their design, according to the Federal Register’s website. Stage 1 aircraft are the oldest and loudest, while Stage 2 aircraft are about 10 decibels louder than comparably sized Stage 3 aircraft, according to Houston Airport System’s website.
As it stands, according to the town’s press release, East Hampton Airport can place restrictions on Stage 1 and 2 aircraft without the FAA’s approval.
But Quiet Skies Coalition Chairwoman Kathy Cunningham challenged the interpretation of the new rule. Ms. Cunningham said that under Part 161 of the FAA’s regulations, grant-obligated airports can only regulate Stage 1 and Stage 2 aircrafts with FAA approval—and she maintains that Stage 3 aircrafts cannot be regulated at all under this part of the FAA’s code. “You can’t regulate them, through any protocols, through the town while they are grant-obligated,” she said.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said she was unable to speak about the regulations as they stand or the new rule’s implication on East Hampton Airport. Likewise, FAA officials were unable to give any specifics on what can and cannot be regulated—although an official noted that by creating a designation for Stage 3 aircraft, some regulation was implied.
However, the FAA’s criteria for grant-obligated airports to regulate Stage 2 and Stage 3 aircrafts seems to be in line with the town’s press release, according to the administration’s website. It outlines “Notice Requirements for Stage 2 Regulations,” which includes guidelines for the notice of proposed restriction, required analysis of proposed restrictions and alternatives, comment by interested parties, among other instructions—but no approval process is noted, nor any suggestion that the FAA must sign off on the town’s regulation of those aircraft.
But for regulating Stage 3 aircrafts, the FAA’s website explicitly outlines “Notice, Review and Approval Requirements”—suggesting that FAA approval is necessary for the town to enact regulations.
The rule takes effect May 5, 2014, and the town’s status as a grant-obligated airport ends on December 31, 2014.
“The elevation of some helicopters to Stage 3 category reinforces the option for the town to allow grant assurances to expire and re-exert its rights as the owner and operator of the airport,” said Ms. Cunningham.
Because the airport is grant-obligated, they cannot deny the landing of any aircraft and must stay open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which creates constant noise, Ms. Cunningham said.
The Airport Planning Committee has formed two subcommittees to represent those concerned with noise and those involved in the aviation community, to examine the proposed technical noise analysis to consider all factors and make a fair decision as to how to address the problems.
In terms of renewing their status as grant-obligated, the airport is looking into ways to be self-sufficient and generate revenue, thus alleviating the need to “encumber another 20 years of literally anarchy,” said Frank Dalene, co-founder of the Quiet Skies Coalition.
The town is still unsure as to whether or not it will remain grant-obligated in 2015, according to the release.