East Hampton Airport Data is Incorrect

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By Mara Certic

With little fanfare, last week, the East Hampton Airport manager distributed a release explaining that there had been a few “inaccuracies” in the data reported to both the town board and public about airport operations over the summer.

“It was a mistake within my staff,” Jemille Charlton said in a telephone interview this week, about the incorrect figures presented to the town board at various times during the past few months.

Because of an error in procedure—by which attendants pulled information from Vector, the software that keeps track of incoming and outgoing air traffic, rather than using the data in the official reports—some of the flight information presented to the board was wildly inaccurate.

For example, on Tuesday, September 15, Mr. Charlton gave his most recent presentation to the town board, in which he went over the data for January 1 through July 31, which showed that compared to 2014, there had been a 1-percent increase in the number of helicopter flights, a 70-percent increase in the number of seaplanes, and 51-percent increase in other plane and jet traffic. With 17,216 total flights reported in 2015, he said at that time the number of all operations at the airport was 29 percent higher than in the same period last year.

In the corrected data, it appears that helicopter traffic actually decreased, and seaplane traffic, which many residents said was endless and out-of-control all summer, only saw a 7-percent increase over last year. Fixed wing operations only increased by 9 percent, and the corrected number of flights from January through July was almost 4,000 operations fewer than what was reported just last month. The actual number of 13,504 operations marked only a 2-percent increase over last year.

Not all of the data is incorrect—but a lot of it is, including information about complaints, and some of the numbers from both 2014 and 2013.

The town has been updating the processes and programs by which it tracks flights in order to analyze how the restrictions it adopted this spring are affecting traffic around the airport and the quality of life for surrounding neighborhoods.

Mr. Charlton said the problem has been addressed and he has been assured it will not happen again. As “a data guy,” he said, it was particularly frustrating to have an error like this. Some of the initial numbers did seem a little high, he said, “but I used to be the attendant. I sat in the front watching the planes come in.”

Now that he is the manager and has more on his plate, he relies on his attendants for that sort of anecdotal information. “I’m not as hands on as I was,” he said.

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the board’s liaison to the airport, would not say whether the errors would have an impact on how the town board assesses the impact of the restrictions it imposed earlier this year.

The town board is currently working with its consultants HMMH to create a scope of work to analyze the noise that occurred over the summer, which is defined by the law as May 1 through September 30.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said that she imagined the board would be ready to hold a meeting about the effectiveness of the restrictions so far, with public input, by the end of the year.

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