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Apr 17, 2018 5:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

How East Hampton Might Seek To Restrict Aircraft In The Future

Attorney Bill O'Connor presented the East Hampton Town Board with a list of possible options it might explore in seeking to restrict aircraft flights at East Hampton Airport. Michael Wright
Apr 18, 2018 9:29 AM

An attorney for East Hampton Town on Tuesday laid out a menu of options the town could seek to impose on flights at East Hampton Airport in its application to the Federal Aviation Administration, asking for permission to take measures to reduce noise—from curfews similar to those used in 2015 and 2016, to outright bans on certain very loud aircraft, to closing down the airport entirely.

The list of options also included some air traffic volume control measures that have been used at large commercial airports and in Europe but never at a small airport in the United States. They include quotas on overall noise impacts or on the number of flights by a given charter company, or simply issuing “tags” that each plane coming into the airport would have to have, which could be limited by airport management.

All of the options would be pioneering, as will the town’s own application in itself, and likely complicated and difficult to enact and manage, the attorney, Bill O’Connor, warned the Town Board and members of its Airport Management Advisory Committee at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

“There are no other general aviation airports that have ever tried a Part 161,” Mr. O’Connor said, referring to the section of FAA guidelines under which the town will be applying for permission to impose restrictions at its airport. “We are truly in uncharted territory. But most general aviation airports don’t have the kind of issues that East Hampton has. The closest was Santa Monica—and their decision was to close the airport.”

Mr. O’Connor’s former firm, Morrison & Foerster, handled the Part 161 application that requested, and was granted, permission for the city of Santa Monica, California, to close its airport, and he noted that doing so is within East Hampton’s rights, once legal mandates from past FAA grants have expired in 2021.

But most of the options presented on Tuesday focused on giving the town ways of curtailing the overall volume of aircraft, particularly those with very loud noise signatures, and managing the flights that do come in to be of the least impact on residents of East End neighborhoods as possible.

Mr. O’Connor said a quota system imposed on “operators” that oversee multiple aircraft coming to the airport each week might be the easiest way for the town to impose restrictions on just commercial flights and have essentially no impact on private aircraft travel.

Through all of the options, Mr. O’Connor differentiated how the approaches were suited to potentially reining in the volume of loud aircraft using the airport while minimizing limitations on the small private planes based there.

Helicopters have been fingered as the main catalyst of outrage over the airport’s surge in traffic volume in the last 15 years. Noise complaints from residents around the South Fork and North Fork have soared in the last decade as pay-per-seat charter helicopter flights between New York City and East Hampton Airport became more popular.

After the town imposed curfews that restricted particularly loud types of aircraft, like most helicopters, many of the charter flight switched to quieter seaplanes, but the midday roar of chopper blades on summer weekends continued. The town had tried to impose a strict limit of no more than one flight to the airport per week in 2015 as well, but was blocked by a court almost immediately, whereas the curfews were allowed to remain through two seasons.

Going into the Part 161, Mr. O’Connor said, asking for permission to reimpose curfews would be the foundation of the town’s approach, but tailoring volume would also be a factor.

Through approaches like the use of quotas or the tag system—which would be like reservations for a landing or take off—the town could decide on a general amount by which it wanted to reduce overall traffic at the airport and then adjust the allowances it provided to that.

“The town can very rightfully say that they want to reduce traffic 30 percent, maybe it’s 40 percent,” Mr. O’Connor said. “The law does allow you to make some judgment calls about reducing the overall amount of traffic at the airport.”

He suggested that the town could use the number of operations it allowed in various time periods of the day, or times of the year, to further dampen noise impacts on residents.

In 2017 there were more than 27,000 “operations” at East Hampton Airport—each operation representing a take-off or landing.

Mr. O’Connor said that his firm had been planning on a fall 2018 application to the FAA, before which time the town will have to have fully developed the approach it wants to take and present it to the public for 45 days of public comments, before filing the federal application. The FAA would then be expected to post questions or challenges to certain parts of the proposal, open it to another three months of public comments, and then it would have six months to rule on whether it would allow the town to impose the restrictions it proposed. The town has estimated the process could take up to two years and cost more than $1.5 million.

“This is the path we’ve decided to go,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said. “We are breaking ground in a lot of ways, but that is not uncommon for East Hampton.”

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