Possible changes to airport regulations in East Hampton could create ripple effects in other East End communities like Southampton Village, whose officials are worried there will be more helicopter flights as summer visitors look for alternatives to using the East Hampton Airport.
Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said he is closely monitoring a pending decision by East Hampton Town that would place noise and curfew restrictions on all planned helicopter trips year round, with stricter regulations during summer months. Without the ability to fly to East Hampton Airport on weekends or after a certain time on weekdays, air travelers will be looking for the next best thing, sending many people to the helipad in Southampton Village as well as the Montauk Airport.
While Mr. Epley said it would be difficult to limit the number of people using the heliport, which is located on Meadow Lane, the village can still take actions to make it as safe as possible, including hiring a full-time attendant and stepping up police officers’ enforcement of driving and parking regulations in the area.
“I have some significant safety concerns,” Mr. Epley said this week. “It is a small landing pad and it is unmanned and Meadow Lane is a highly traveled and very crowded road.”
The East Hampton Town Board is proposing four new regulations that would limit operations at the airport. The restrictions would ban all helicopters on weekends and holidays and set nighttime curfews for all aircraft, including a stricter curfew for aircraft classified as “noisy.” It would also regulate noisy aircraft to two operations per week—one takeoff and one landing.
According to Mr. Epley, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Southampton heliport accommodates approximately 1,000 landings and takeoffs for helicopters of various sizes, only a fraction of the 6,000 reported in East Hampton during the same period. If Southampton were to receive even 10 percent of the East Hampton helicopter traffic, the increase of 600 landings and takeoffs could be potentially dangerous for Southampton, Mr. Epley said.
“We could be almost doubling the number of landings,” Mr. Epley said. “The helipad has always been a nice benefit to those people living in the village and the town that choose that mode of transportation, and for us to end up drawing people from the eastern part of the town and East Hampton, I am getting very concerned.”
Currently, pilots who use the Southampton heliport can land there from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week during the summer, with the evening time changing in the winter based on when it grows dark. The village charges $100 for helicopters weighing less than 5,000 pounds, and $150 for 5,000- to 15,000-pound aircraft. Anything above that weight is prohibited.
The village also plans to strictly enforce travel paths to and from the helipad, with the mayor saying there will be consequences for pilots who do not stick to the flight plan or the height restrictions in residential areas. Helicopters will approach and depart from the north based on Federal Aviation Administration recommendations for Southampton. The helicopters will primarily fly over the ocean, then turn above the Shinnecock Canal and travel over Shinnecock Bay for the northern approach and departure, he said.
According to the mayor, staffing the heliport full time could end up costing the village up to $25 an hour seven days a week during the summer. The second step, he said, would be to increase the police presence, since additional landings would mean more cars on already crowded small village streets, including Meadow Lane, which leads to both village and Suffolk County beaches. Village police will do their part to make sure people are parking in appropriate places and observing speed limits, he said.
“The only thing that will deter people is the aggressive enforcement of the rules around the operations to the heliport and the aggressive enforcement of parking rules,” Mr. Epley said. “These are things that we have to do if you double the volume. We will have to be much more aggressive than we have been.”