Helicopter traffic in and out of East Hampton Airport continues to increase steeply as competition drives down prices for seats on “charter” flights, and aggressive marketing drives up the number of people looking to fly to the South Fork from New York City to avoid traffic delays.
Since the economic rebound following the “Great Recession” in 2008 and 2009, helicopter traffic has climbed to new heights. After modest decreases in the number of helicopter flights in the years when the town imposed curfews at the airport, the number of helicopter flights has shot upward again since the curfews were lifted by court order following the 2016 summer season.
In 2017, helicopter traffic increased 29 percent from the year before, surpassing the levels from before the curfews were put in place, according to a report to the town from its airport traffic consultants Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc.
There were 8,876 helicopter flights to the airport last year, about 32 percent of the total takeoffs and landings at the airport, a slightly smaller percentage of the overall number than in 2014. But it’s an increase of nearly 500 flights by helicopters compared to that year.
Thus far in 2018, helicopter traffic is up another 15 percent over the same period last year, airport officials say, and nearly 22 percent higher than the pace in 2007, the overall busiest year on record at the airport. Traffic in 2018 overall is up about 7 percent from last year and seems likely to fall short of the pre-recession levels of total traffic.
But with helicopter flights continuing to soar and flights by seaplanes—which some charter companies deploy to replace helicopters during the curfew years, because their noise signature qualified them for less restrictive curfew hours—also still climbing steeply, the consternation over the airport continues to vex local officials.
“We keep seeing more and more helicopter traffic, I think because there are price wars going on, so there are lower prices,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said. “There are a lot of people who are annoyed and find the noise intrusive into their quality of life. And I agree with them.”
The town conducted a survey of people arriving at East Hampton Airport over the two weekends bookending the July 4 holiday, part of an economic analysis of the impact of the airport ahead of the planned application to the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to re-impose curfews and possibly other restrictions intended to reduce air traffic, especially of charter helicopters.
“We asked questions like, Do you have a second home here? How many times have you been to visit this summer? How many times have you used the airport?” Ms. Overby said. “We are trying to get an idea of who is actually using the airport.”
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