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Feb 5, 2019 4:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Helicopter Traffic Continues To Swell As East Hampton Town Seeks Options To Reduce It

Attorney Bill O'Connor told the East Hampton Town Board that the town may be able to convince the FAA to re-impose curfews on flights at East Hampton Airport but likely faces a difficult time finding a regulatory path to reducing the volume of flights into and out of the airport. Michael Wright
Feb 5, 2019 4:37 PM

The total number of flights into and out of East Hampton Airport in 2018 declined slightly from the previous year, but the number of helicopter flights continued to climb and is now up more than 50 percent since 2016.

Nonetheless, the number of complaints about noise from aircraft dropped by more than 25 percent in 2018, to about 35,000 complaints, consultants told the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday. The consultants said their analysis of data from two online noise complaint applications showed that those complaints came from only about 420 different “households” scattered around the East End.

An attorney hired by the town to press an application to the Federal Aviation Administration to allow restrictions urged continuing with the application and said it was likely that the town will win the right to impose curfews again, though perhaps not with the same strictness of those the town imposed on its own in 2015 and 2016.

Convincing the federal regulators to approve any of a number of possible approaches to forcing a reduction in total volume flights, especially those by the noisiest aircraft like helicopters, will be much harder, the attorney, Bill O’Connor of California-based law firm Cooley LLP, told the board.

“With the Part 161, the curfews are likely achievable … the frequency and volume issues may be more challenging,” he said at the board’s work session at Town Hall on Tuesday. “The FAA likes to see static restriction. It becomes harder to run through the process if you have a more dynamic approach. And I think the litigation risk is much higher.”

Mr. O’Connor said that any regulation that would limit the use of certain aircraft more than others, or certain kinds of aircraft operators, would be likely to spur lawsuits against the town and FAA if the federal agency were to approve them.

Nonetheless, he encouraged the town to include in its application proposals that officials here see as reasonable to achieving the kinds of reductions they would like, rather than trying to handicap the FAA’s likely reaction to them. Overall, traffic at the airport declined in 2018 by about 1 percent, to 17,737 landings and take-offs, or “operations,” in airport lingo. The total number of helicopter flights, however, was up by 152, or about 3 percent, to an all-time high of 5,729 operations.

After modest declines in 2015 and 2016 as charter operators shifted to more use of quieter seaplanes to avoid stricter curfews, helicopter traffic leapt 27 percent in 2017 after the town-imposed curfews were struck down by a federal court.

Helicopters now make up about a third of all traffic at the airport and generate the vast majority of complaints about noise. In particular, two models of chopper used commonly by charter companies were the main drivers of complaints, consultant Mary Ellen Eagan of HMMH Inc., the town’s noise consultants, said.

Mr. O’Connor said that one of the main hurdles in trying to convince the FAA to see the town’s side of things is the metric the federal agency has long used to measure noise impacts on communities surrounding airports, which looks at an annual average noise decibel level. Such a measure wholly misses the impacts of an airport that has extremely heavy traffic, mostly in intermittent short windows of time and during only a small portion of the year, as East Hampton does on summer weekends. Communities across the country, Mr. O’Connor said, have been trying to find ways to show the FAA that such metrics are a poor measure.

The attorney also revealed that the federal Department of Transportation used East Hampton as a testing ground for helicopter noise in recent months by placing noise sensors throughout the community and measuring how the noise created by the aircraft was affected by varying styles of piloting a helicopter as it approached or departed from the airport. Mr. O’Conner said it was somewhat disconcerting that the town was never notified this testing was going on, but noted that the area is an “ideal” place for such research because of the heavy helicopter traffic it sees.

He told the board that complaint data that it has been compiling in recent years is unlikely to carry much weight in the FAA application itself, though it is useful in helping to illustrate the regions of the East End affected by noise impacts. More important, he said, will be convincing the FAA to allow the town to introduce other data beyond just the noise level averages into the equation for demonstrating noise impacts.

Along with moving forward carefully with the Part 161, Mr. O’Connor said, the town should continue to seek more immediate relief through federal legislation, if New York’s representatives can find political avenues.

He noted that U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin had been able to attach an amendment to a federal bill last year demanding the FAA review the recommended flight routes along the North Shore of Long Island. But political wrangling in Washington blocked any similar amendments to that bill from the Senate, where New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand had introduced amendments that would have reimposed nighttime curfews at East Hampton Airport immediately and commanded the FAA to address noise problems at the airport within one year.

Mr. O’Connor said it was difficult to forecast whether the changing political mix at the federal level would open that opportunity again but said it is an avenue the town should continue pressing.

He also suggested the town may want to start discussing alternative uses for the airport property, with the understanding that if town lawmakers see fit, they can simply close the airport entirely in 2021.

“Go ahead and have those discussions now, to try to align what those uses might be with the town’s objectives,” Mr. O’Connor said. “It’s a clear path to solve the problem. You can close this airport … at the conclusion of the 2021 season.”

He said the town could also close the airport in 2021 and then enter into negotiations with the FAA to reopen it, but only with the imposition of certain limitations to the town’s satisfaction.

In the last two years, Town Board members have repeatedly said that they see the threat of closing the airport in 2021—when strings attached to past FAA grants will expire—as the town’s best negotiating chip with the FAA and aircraft operators. But the suggestion this week drew quick blowback from aviation advocates on Tuesday afternoon, who have said that opposition to the airport is not as strong as the current town administration has tried to claim.

“We appreciate HMMH’s conclusions that noise complaints have dropped by 28 percent and that only 442 people, out of the more than 150,000 in the complaint coverage area, made complaints about aircraft in 2018,” said Kent Feuerring, the president of the East Hampton Aviation Association, a local pilots group. “However, we are concerned by the fact that the primary recommendation made by [Mr. O’Connor] was that the Town Board should begin preparing to close the airport in 2021, and that they should focus their efforts on deciding what to do with the airport land after it has been closed.”

Some Town Board members showed frustration at the discouraging prospects of being able to find a way to implement meaningful reductions in total aircraft flights.

“The key issue seem to be whether we are able to limit the quantity of traffic,” Councilman Jeff Bragman said. “We’ve had the experience with curfews that the traffic just fits in. The growth in traffic continues.”

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Should we start a GoFundMe to get SHPress a new digital camera?
By Pacman (273), Southampton on Feb 6, 19 4:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
But really, I bet the photographer's smartphone is just sitting in their pocket waiting for its moment to shine.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Feb 6, 19 11:02 PM
Absolutely no one believes the majority of the current Town Board has any interest in doing anything other than closing the airport in 2021. It has been their plan all along. There has never been a single incident of an airport that has intentionally be closed to later be reopened. They will close it and sell the land to developers regardless of the severe impact to our local economy. In fact, the consultant admitted they are not even doing an economic impact study (because they don’t want ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 6, 19 5:05 PM
The closure is now inevitable, and the local aviation interests only have themselves to blame, as they (you) did nothing over the past 10 years to assist with mitigating the noise onslaught from Blade et. al., while the community (the vast majority) made its position very clear. Now, with the calendar counting down to 2021, you're still harping on the very narrow aviation special interest without a single word to support any rational noise reduction. Better change your tune if you really want to ...more
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Feb 6, 19 9:57 PM
It always makes me laugh how you think a couple of single prop local recreational pilots could control and dictate to multimillion dollar commercial corporate operations. Just because we both happen to oppose draconian restrictions and the closure of the airport doesn’t mean we are somehow in charge of the helicopters. We have zero relationship with Blade and never have had one. You think you are a majority, but you seems to be using common core math. The fact is only about 25 local residents ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 6, 19 10:20 PM
All the local pilots had to do was speak truth to power about the noise problems, FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE PROBLEMS a decade or so ago.

Instead you chose to lie down with dogs. Hence the fleas . . .

The man in the mirror did not serve you well.

Repeating the same old rhetoric about developers etc. is just the same ol' same ol' smoke screen.

You made the bed, now you have to lie down in it!

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Feb 7, 19 4:39 AM
Local, the same lame line of reasoning. I’ve posted articles showing it’s people from Queens to Easthampton who are complaining. You are flat out wrong, and disingenuous. No one opposes the small prop planes and you know it.
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Feb 7, 19 5:34 AM
PBR your post makes absolutely no sense as usual. What “truth to power” were we supposed to speak about and to whom? Are you actually saying that because we didn’t join your protests to close the airport for the past 10 years that the noise from commercial helicopters and jets is our fault? Do you hear how ridiculous that is are do you just hate all pilots so much you have aviation derangement syndrome? You never answered the question - tell us what powe we have to do anything ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 7, 19 10:06 AM
Fred the complaint numbers not only include people who don’t live in this area, they turned out to be proven by HMMH to be falsified. HMMH reveal that nearly half of 2017 and 2018 numbers were intentionally falsified and they had to for e the private website owner to remove them from the data he provided them (yet he left the fake number up on his website). Even then the data was so questionable that they had to caveat that those complaint should not be taken seriously and asked the board ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 7, 19 10:14 AM
1. You had every opportunity to oppose the out-of-town aviation special interest but decided to cast your lot with them, vs. the town. After all, all that outside money was making things better for you, and you could never even contemplate the town not accepting FAA cash/grants. You could easily have formed a group of local pilots in opposition to the outside interest that were creating the backlash, but decided that ANY constraint / concession was a road to ruin. Oh the irony.
2. Yes those ...more
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Feb 7, 19 3:12 PM
1 member liked this comment
I will take that as a high compliment since you seem to be utterly unable to respond to or refute any of the facts that I have presented and instead just keep maniacally saying the same empty baseless phrases over and over. Discussing this issue with you feels like trying to discuss astrophysics with a goldfish. The only thing we have ever "sided with" the helicopters on is that we both oppose the closure of the airport and the institution of draconian restrictions (ie: curfews that close it all ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 8, 19 9:19 AM
Tick tock...tick tock...
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Feb 8, 19 7:14 PM
I grew up with freinds whose dads flew around the patch in small prop planes.There were no jets. I think Ben krupinskis Falcon 900 was the first one based there. Even those werent much of an issue but now, many flex jets net jets buzz in and out. If you ant to hear them on the gas pedela just park down on Wainscott Harbor Road & Merchants Path. In North Sea the jets are not a problem either slowing down to land or have altitude. The sea planes ar another matter, They obviously don't climb and are ...more
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Feb 7, 19 6:27 AM
What makes you think we have not already asked the ERHC to find ways to mitigate sound, reduce operations, comply with voluntary curfews, and fly higher? I personally reported three helicopters that took off at 3:45am this past summer and flew much lower than they were capable on a clear night to both the airport manager and the EHRC. We have done all of that, but we have ZERO power over them. In fact, Jeff Smith and the EHRC doesn't have any power over the companies either, the are just an advisory ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 7, 19 3:02 PM
There is no need to have an airport in East Hampton NY. The proponents of this airport will swear it would serve a critical need in case of a tsunami or nuclear winter. There is, however, nobody who can list an authentic reason to keep it. Dogs barking/weed whackers - no way, Airplanes-can’t live without ?
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Feb 7, 19 6:58 AM
The North Fork is inundated with helicopter and jet traffic and it is awful
By DLM (1), Southampton on Feb 7, 19 3:45 PM
I am surprised that you find jet traffic to be noisy over the North Fork. Most jet traffic from HTO departs on Rwy 28 and procedure requires that they immediately turn out over the water to the south. If they depart on Rwy 10, again the departure route is over the water on the south side of the South Fork. If the jet did have to eventually turn northbound it would be well over 5000 feet up by the time it crossed the North Fork. Inbound jet traffic is typically very quiet because their engines are ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 8, 19 10:39 AM
I live in Astoria Queens. The same helos that negatively impact the North Fork also negatively impact many of us in Astoria.
They fly over us (residential) low and loud transitioning to the NSR. We are really SICK OF IT!!!!!!!!
I've lived here over 20 years, in the same house - and it was never an issue until a few years ago.
By Scrimu (1), Astoria on Feb 8, 19 1:56 PM
EH Local im a little confused would you be ok if all commercial traffic to and from your local airport was eliminated and the airport came back as it was built for in 1955 for local pilots in there single engine Cessna aircrafts.?

They closed the Westhampton dragstrip no one talks about it, they closed the Bridgehampton race track no one talks about it they closed Freeport race track nobody talks about it, They were all closed because of noise and the property was worth big bucks. ...more
By shredman (11), Northville on Feb 8, 19 5:00 PM
First of all the airport was built in 1936, not 1955. It was first proposed by the East Hampton Business Men’s Club specifically as a “convenience to summer visitors” because “each year more and more of our summer residents are turning to aviation as a means of commuting between New York offices and East Hampton homes”. The claim that it was built as a small recreational airport is a complete fiction made up by the anti-airport group. Scheduled daily commercial flight ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 9, 19 11:30 AM
First of all the airport was built in 1936, not 1955. It was first proposed by the East Hampton Business Men’s Club specifically as a “convenience to summer visitors” because “each year more and more of our summer residents are turning to aviation as a means of commuting between New York offices and East Hampton homes”. The claim that it was built as a small recreational airport is a complete fiction made up by the anti-airport group. Scheduled daily commercial flight ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Feb 9, 19 11:30 AM
I would not, being that I live on the North Shore where over 75-100 helicopters and seaplanes come over my community on Thursdays Fridays and Sundays to land at HTO . So if each and every craft that lands on the South Shore ( Westhampton, Southampton Montauk and # 1 EH Hampton) which not a single one lands on the North Shore would be willing to fly the South Shore route ONLY back and forth then I would be happy. Unfortunately A whole lot of the problem would be right back at you from the very ...more
By shredman (11), Northville on Feb 9, 19 12:33 PM
Local, do you really think anyone cares about the money generated by the airport if their lives are negatively impacted by helicopters on a daily basis? Your argument falls on deaf ears with this logic. It’s a noisy quality of life issue, you argue dollars. You can’t pay people to listen to the noise, but you expect them to live with it if someone else is getting paid by it. Flawed logic
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Feb 9, 19 12:50 PM
Shredman, you forgot Long Island national speedway. Also, great point.
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Feb 8, 19 5:15 PM
Thank you Fred my apologies, also Westhampton had a go cart race track and an excellent Motocross track.
By shredman (11), Northville on Feb 8, 19 7:12 PM
EhLocal; on 9/28 a NetJets plane flew from Fishers island area southbound then continued westbound over Gardiners island, clipped Shelter Island , proceeded over Cutchogue and Mattituck (at 2900 Ft) to make a southern turn over Laurel and proceed south of Robins island, then north over North Sea area for appruachbto KHTO. Please refrain from telling the public where and at what altitude pilots should be flying at because your information is incorrect. You do not live on the North Fork and therefore ...more
By NativeEEnder (5), Hampton Bays on Feb 11, 19 9:36 AM