Supreme Court To Decide Whether to Hear Airport Case

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A small private plane taxis on the runway as a helicopter takes off overhead at the East Hampton Airport.

By Kathryn G. Menu

The United States Supreme Court will likely consider whether or not to hear East Hampton Town’s petition to reinstate local control at the East Hampton Airport at its June 22 conference, according to town board member and airport liaison Kathee Burke-Gonzalez.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said on Tuesday it was possible the court could inform the town of its decision by the end of this month.

On Monday, June 5, the town filed its brief to the court in the Town of East Hampton v. the Friends of the East Hampton Airport, Inc, et al. case, meaning all paperwork has been submitted and the case is ready to be heard.

In March, town officials announced its aviation attorneys, Kathleen Sullivan and David Cooper of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan, LLP, had petitioned the Supreme Court in an effort to reinstate curfews at the airport that were imposed by the town board in 2015 in a bid to reduce noise complaints. In November, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the town did not have the right to impose restrictions — including curfews already in place — at the airport that did not comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, even if the town did not accept federal grants for the facility.

In April, the Supreme Court ordered that the Friends of the East Hampton Airport prepare and file a response to the town’s petition by May 19. The Friends asked the court for a three-week extension on that deadline, which the town opposed, said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, because of the preliminary injunction against curfews at the airport, and a concern that the delay could push a conference on the case to the next term of the Supreme Court, which will not reconvene until October. The court agreed to give the Friends an extension to May 30. In its brief, the Friends of the East Hampton Airport argued that the Supreme Court should not hear the case because curfew laws would violate the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act.

In its response, the town’s attorney’s counter that the court of appeals decision is a radical change in what was believed to be standard practice in federal aviation law — that a municipality could regain control over its airport if it refused federal funding. The response also notes the decision could impact thousands of municipally owned airports across the country as a reason for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter.

While the town’s attorneys had two weeks to respond, according to Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, it filed its response with the court on June 5 in an effort to have the case heard at the June 22 conference.

“The Town Board is pleased that the Supreme Court will be taking a serious look at our petition this month. Memorial Day Weekend air traffic noise was unbearable for many residents here on the East End – destroying the peace and tranquility they have a right to expect in their own homes,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez at Tuesday’s town board work session. “We are committed to fighting for local control of our municipal airport so that we can manage the airport in the best interests of our community, striking a balance for those affected by excessive aircraft noise and the flying public.”

In other airport news, a petition by Southold Town to eliminate what is known as the North Shore helicopter route was denied by the FAA in mid-May. That petition requested all South Fork bound aircraft use a South Fork route from New York City. The North Shore route was extended by the FAA through August 2020 last July.

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