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Jul 1, 2008 6:59 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Mechanic retires after decades at airport

Jul 1, 2008 6:59 AM

Over the last 30 years, a lot has changed at East Hampton Airport. The number of planes flying in and out has ballooned more than 1,000 percent. Small single-engine puddle jumpers have taken a back seat in the take-off traffic line up to charter flights, helicopters and corporate jets. A runway has been closed, lawsuits filed and a seemingly endless parade of critics and defenders of aircraft owners have been locked in public warfare.

But through it all, one constant has remained—until now: Mike Myers. Smiling as he tools across the property in his beat up golf cart, quick with a joke and befriended by everyone from movie stars to maintenance men, Mr. Myers has been a fixture at the airport since opening his aircraft maintenance business, Myers Aero Services in 1977.

For many of those years, Mr. Myers has been the lone mechanic available to the public at the airport. His retirement leaves the field without a full-time mechanic and the last of its most colorful throwbacks to the days when the weekend flying aficionados had the expanse of tarmac pretty much to themselves.

“I’ll miss it, yeah,” Mr. Myers said in his rusting, empty hangar on Friday, as he watched a fussy customer, his last, fiddle with the small plane he had just finished repairing. “It’s been good to me but it’s time for me to go. I’m 65, that’s when you retire, right?”

Mr. Meyers, a native of Indiana, learned his trade in the U.S. Navy, where he worked as a jet engine mechanic. After leaving the service, he came to East Hampton in 1970 to work for Robert King’s now defunct Montauk Caribbean Airways and then as a private mechanic for the Avon Corporation’s four jets, stationed at the airport’s western hangar, now owned by Ben Krupinski as East Hampton Airlines but known at the airport as “Benny’s hangar.”

In 1977, one of the town-owned hangars that had been the shop of another mechanic—Ed Kalish of Bridgehampton—became available after its tenant failed to pay the rent, Mr. Myers recalled. “The town asked me if I wanted to take over,” he said. “I’ve been here ever since.”

He has since built a long list of loyal customers who bring their planes from throughout the tri-state area to his hangar for their annual service inspections and repairs.

At times, Mr. Myers’ hangar was more than just an airplane hospital. In the 1990s, he played host to a series of boisterous benefit parties that sometimes drew as many as 5,000 people.

“Mike’s hangar was the social spot of the Hamptons,” recalled Pat Ryan, the airport manager at the time. “There were celebrities all over. John F. Kennedy Jr., Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Marrisa Tomei, Billy Baldwin—when he was famous—Ru Paul played there once. Mike treated them all the same as he would treat the garbage man and everybody loved him.”

As he kicked dust in the hangar, strewn with tools, machines and a bull-whip and handcuffs—a gift from an old girlfriend, he said—Mr. Myers reminisced about the days when the airport was a less busy place.

“It used to be just a bunch of local people, weekend fliers,” he said. “They would fly to other airports together to have lunch. It was very friendly. The people have changed.”

The change began when the town constructed the new terminal and hangars around the edges of the property in the 1980s. Flights started shuttling wealthy homeowners out from LaGuardia and Flushing airports. The number of planes coming in and out of the airport climbed steadily through the 1990s and then, as the stock market spiked, so did the traffic.

“The real change came when we started getting the helicopters,” Mr. Myers said, shaking his head and looking out a window at the sky over the airport just as the thunder of a landing chopper reverberated through the steel hangar. No sooner had it died than another approached. “They’ve gotten real bad in the last five or six years. They’re loud. On a Friday afternoon, it’s one after the other, two or three landing at a time. You can’t talk to someone. It wears on you.”

Local pilots are concerned that no mechanic will be doing business on the field. Sound Aviation, which operates charters, a flight school and a fuel business, has agreed to provide mechanic services, but only for planes based at the airport, and will not solicit business, airport manager Jim Brundige said.

Aside from the service he provided, Mr. Myers’s daily presence at the airport will be missed.

“He’s a legend around here,” Mr. Brundige said. “We don’t know what we’ll do without him. He’s always cheery, smiling and making jokes. But he’s certainly earned his retirement.”

Mr. Myers will keep his interest in Myers Aero Service’s fuel delivery business, a service he started in the 1980s. While the busy airport is good for the business, the cost of that fuel, he said, is making it tougher for the kind of recreational fliers that once were the bulk of the airport traffic to keep up their hobby. He said that if another plane mechanic were to take up residence at the airport, there is a good business to be had.

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