May 26, 2014

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast about the fight over East Hampton Airport.

The Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC) is among the aviation organizations fighting to maintain access to New York’s East Hampton Airport (HTO), even in the face of adverse court rulings and ongoing pressure from local residents who complain about noise from helicopters, jets and seaplanes.

“They’ve already increased landing fees 20 percent for jets and helicopters,” said Jeff Smith, vice president of ERHC. “The numbers don’t add up. They’re trying to limit or eliminate helicopters and jets, but more than 50 percent of their revenue comes from those aircraft. They’re trying to kill the airport.”

Smith said helicopter operators have worked hard to appease local residents who are concerned about noise. Over the past five years, Smith said ERHC alone has spent more than $250,000 for noise monitoring, scientific studies, advocacy and education. Smith helped design new noise abatement procedures that have been credited with a marked reduction in the number of noise complaints. Last year, those complaints dropped from approximately 11,600 to fewer than 7,000.

“They always ask what more we can do,” Smith said. “Look at the FAA requirements. We’re going 1,000 percent above and beyond.”

The battle over noise escalated into a lawsuit, which was recently settled when the FAA agreed to end three grant assurance programs seven years early. The agreements will now end on Dec. 31, 2014.

East Hampton’s newly elected town board believes that if the city does not accept federal airport improvement funds, they will be able to make their own determination on restricting certain types of air traffic at HTO in an effort to cut down on noise. A budget subcommittee named by the board to investigate ways to sustain the airport without Airport Improvement Program funds recently issued its first report to the board.

“Clearly, your financial analysis shows that we should move forward… that we can finance the airport, we can keep it safe, we can make the improvements that are absolutely necessary – we can do that for some period of time without taking FAA money,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell at a recent board meeting. “(That) only leaves our options open, which is a good thing.”

At a recent town board work session, the budget subcommittee presented four scenarios where HTO could continue operations without FAA money. Each of the plans included increases in landing fees and hangar rent as well as higher fuel prices.

The effort to wean HTO from federal funding is not a popular one with everyone in the area. HTO generates 91 local jobs, contributing millions of dollars to the local economy every year. The East Hampton Aviation Association last year released a survey that showed 88 percent of local residents support continued FAA funding.