East Hampton Town Board Hears Options for Airport Restrictions

The East Hampton Town Airport.

The East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday was presented with eight options for measures that could combat noise generated by flights in and out of the East Hampton Airport, including imposing curfews, banning the noisiest aircrafts, introducing tag or quotas systems to curtail flights during traditionally high-traffic times or sensitive hours, and even closing the airport altogether. The presentation was made by attorney Bill O’Connor, of the firm Cooley and formally of Morrison & Foerster, which the board hired to guide it through its application to the Federal Aviation Administration to impose restrictions at the airport — a process that Mr. O’Connor noted was “uncharted territory” for a general aviation airport like East Hampton.

“There are no other general aviation airports that have tried a Part-161,” said Mr. O’Connor during the town board work session, referring to the process under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA) that allows the town to apply to the FAA for restrictions at the airport, exploring alternatives and providing a cost-benefit analysis of any proposed restrictions.

“Most general aviation airports do not have the situation East Hampton does,” he added. “The closet is Santa Monica with jets and their solution was to close the airport.” According to Mr. O’Connnor, closing the airport is an option the town can pursue in 2021 when previous grants obtained through the FAA expire.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc noted that when the second circuit court of appeals struck down curfews in 2016 that the town imposed in 2015, the decision was based on the court’s belief it had to go through the Part-161 process to impose restrictions at the municipally-owned airport, located in Wainscott.

“We are breaking new ground in many ways,” he said Tuesday. “That is not uncommon for East Hampton.”

On Tuesday, Mr. O’Connor cautioned that what was being presented was not a final recommendation, but rather all the options the town board has before it as it fine tunes the restrictions it will request to impose. A blanket curfew — similar to those created by the board in 2015 — is one option, he said, where the town would restrict hours of operation for all aircraft. “This is designed to have open and closed hours at the airport,” he said, noting the curfew could be adjusted to apply to just noisy operations, and could be limited to just the busy summer season, when flights in and out of Wainscott increase dramatically, or even specific times of the week. The curfew, said Mr. O’Connor, in whatever form it emerges, would likely be the foundation of the town’s application to the FAA.

Other options include requiring pilots coming into the airport to gain prior permission from the airport manager to land or take off at certain times of the day, for example in the early morning. Councilperson Sylvia Overby wondered if there were ways to protect pilots whose aircraft is based at the East Hampton Airport, and perhaps provide some sort of exemption process. Mr. O’Connor said they were exploring options, trying to balance the interest of the town to foster aviation locally while protecting residents from commercial interests proliferating at the airport.

Mr. O’Connor said the town could also look at tag systems or quotas, basically limiting the amount of flights into the airport. “You would take the past experience, the number of operations over the past season, reduce it by a set percentage and that is the number of tags that would go out for the season,” he said.

Banning specific types of aircraft is another restriction the board could pursue. “And the last option, of course, would be to close the airport,” he said.

Mr. O’Connor said his firm is hoping to file the application with the FAA in the fall of 2018 — something that will only occur after the town develops a specific list of restrictions it will pursue and publicly presents them so residents and stakeholders can weigh in.

“We have our work cut out for refining the results and discussing our options,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc.