Capped by a busier-than-usual August, overall traffic at East Hampton Airport so far this year is 22 percent higher than it was last year—but the cause of most noise complaints, helicopter takeoffs and landings, are up by a much greater margin.
Through the end of August, there were 6,574 helicopters taking off and landing at the airport—about 41 percent more than in 2013, when 4,650 takeoffs and landings were recorded through the end of August. East Hampton Town collected more than $400,000 in additional landing fees compared to last year.
The figures come from a data analysis the town conducted from January through August, and both numbers are up from a similar analysis conducted through the end of July.
What may seem like large numbers are pretty standard for the summer months. “It’s typical that August is the busiest month,” East Hampton Airport Senior Attendant Peter Boody said on Tuesday. “Considering that 80 to 85 percent of the annual traffic is from the summer, it’s not that big of a surprise.”
The total number of takeoffs and landings of all aircraft in July was 5,442, and it rose to a peak of 6,538 in August. All told, there were nearly 20,000 movements tracked at the airport through the end of August, compared to a little more than 15,000 during the same period last year.
The airport uses a billing and traffic-tracking service called Vector to calculate the data, citing a 46 percent increase in landing fees from August 2013 to August 2014. Last year, Vector tracked approximately $934,000 in landing fees. This year, it has calculated $1,361,000.
Vector uses cameras on the ground that take pictures of the tail numbers for each aircraft. To ensure that the cameras haven’t missed any aircraft, log books kept by the airport manager are used to match the data with the photos and fill in any missing information if the cameras fail to get a photo of the tail number.
The jump in helicopter numbers could be attributed to the arrival, and success, of services like Blade. Launched this past May, Blade is an Uber-like cellphone app that offers $575 helicopter rides from Manhattan to East Hampton. Passengers can purchase single seats on a pre-booked flight or launch what are known as crowd-sourced charter flights at cheaper per-person costs.
The increase in traffic has become an issue for many residents. East Hampton Town in August held a forum for residents from both the North and South forks to voice their frustrations and concerns about noise generated by the airport, which, according to residents, has severely worsened this year.
The town is also in a position to decide whether or not it will receive grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, which are set to expire at the end of this year. With the acceptance of grant money from the FAA, the town is required to adhere to certain regulations mandated by the federal agency. If the town were to operate a self-sustaining airport and no longer receive the grants, town officials believe they could then impose curfews, or restrict hours of operation, at the airport and thus mitigate noise.
The Town Board will hear a noise analysis conducted by Henry Young, of Young Environmental Sciences Inc., at its work session on October 21.