After July Fourth Bump, Aircraft Traffic To East Hampton Remains Very Low

Traffic at East Hampton Airport in 2020 remains far below past years but a report on the evolution of the airport's trafffic and the complaints it generates from residents shows that seaplanes and helicopters are the most irritating for residents beneath flight paths.Michael Wright

East Hampton Airport saw a bump in aircraft traffic over the Fourth of July weekend, but has otherwise remained at the lowest levels of aircraft travel in decades as the number of charter flights continues to be very low.

Over the holiday weekend, overall traffic at the airport was down only about 32 percent compared to the 2019 holiday, a leap from the traffic levels seen the last three months. But the most problematic aircraft, the helicopters and seaplanes run by charter companies offering by-the-seat flights, remained very few.

While the number of flights by jets, which are primarily privately owned, were relatively high, there were only 59 helicopter flights into and out of the airport over the Fourth of July weekend, compared to 257 over the Friday-Monday of the 2019 holiday weekend, and 36 seaplane flights, compared to 139 in 2019. The number of flights by large jets only declined by 20 percent, from 141 last year to 114 this year — an indication that those with their own aircraft are still making regular transits to and from their Hamptons homes.

This past weekend, the number of flights fell dramatically, back to less than half the number that would be expected for a mid-July weekend overall, and small fractions of the number of helicopter and seaplane flights.

There were 58 helicopter flights Friday through Monday, July 10-13, compared to 378 July 12-15, 2019, an 85 percent decline. There were 30 seaplane flights, compared to 165 last year, an 82 percent decline.

The coronavirus epidemic has all but halted what had been a booming charter shuttle business between Manhattan’s heliports and seaplane docks and East Hampton. With social distancing requirements, most office staff still working from home and fewer people hosting guests at their summer homes, the demand for the $700-$900 each way tickets has cratered.

Complaints about aircraft noise have continued to flow into the various online outlets, however. Residents of Noyac, in particular, have been angered by the use of a new recommended route that brings helicopters in over Peconic Bay, rather than Long Island Sound, in an effort to reduce the noise impacts on North Fork residents.

Consultants for the town on Tuesday recapped what had been the condition before the epidemic: an airport that was seeing aircraft traffic continually increase, especially by helicopters and seaplanes.

The 2019 summer season was the busiest at the airport since its all-time busiest year, 2007, with overall traffic climbing by 8 percent over 2018. Helicopter flights continued to increase in volume to all-time highs — up 7 percent over 2018 — even as seaplanes took over more of the charter traffic.

The number of seaplane flights in 2019 increased by 23 percent over 2018. The shift has been seen in the irritation of those living under flight paths.

“Complaints have really shifted to complaints about seaplanes and away fro helicopters in that time,” said Adam Scholten, of HMMH, the firm that has been working with the town since 2015 to track airport traffic and complaints.

Earlier this year, the charter flight company Blade said that it would be shifting more and more of its shuttle operations from helicopters to seaplanes — a nod, a company spokesman said, to both the preferences of its customers, as well as to concerns about noise.