Airport Committee Visit to East Hampton Airport Highlights Conflict

David Gruber of the newly-re-formed East Hampton Airport Noise Citizen's Advisory Committee watches private jets discharge their passengers from inside the terminal during a fact-finding trip to the airport on Friday, 9/2/16
East Hampton Airport
Members of the newly-re-formed East Hampton Airport Noise Citizen’s Advisory Committee watch a private helicopter take off in spite of airport workers placing fuel trucks in front of the terminal in an apparent attempt to block the Committee’s view during a fact-finding trip to the airport on Friday, 9/2/16

By Stephen J. Kotz

Five members of the independent, and newly reorganized, East Hampton Airport Noise Citizens Advisory Committee, accompanied by a videographer, paid a visit to the facility on the Friday of the busy Labor Day weekend to observe operations.

“There are some who make the effort,” observed Frank Dalene, who has complained for years about the number of low-flying helicopters buzzing his home, when a commuter helicopter made a slow, circular ascent before leaving the airport’s perimeter on its return trip to New York City, shortly after the group’s arrival.

But as traffic picked up, any good feelings were soon forgotten. The group set itself up on a patio overlooking the tarmac, with its videographer taping the arrival of a Blade helicopter. A representative of Sound Aircraft Services, which leases space at the airport, objected to passengers being taped, and soon, a 5,000-gallon fuel truck pulled up along the fence, partially blocking the view. Shortly afterward, it was joined by a second truck and then a third until the observers could see little of what was happening on the tarmac.

“I can’t wait to see what they don’t want us to see,” said committee member Pat Trunzo.

“This is very aggressive,” added Kathy Cunningham, the president of the Quiet Skies Coalition, who had joined the viewing party.

Airport director Jemille Charlton appeared on the scene to tell committee members they had to stand behind a fence separating the viewing area from the tarmac because of safety reasons. When asked if Sound Aircraft typically parks fuel trucks so near the building, he replied that they did, in fact, do so from time to time. “This is not my fight,” he said when Mr. Gruber tried to engage him in argument about where the group should stand and whether the trucks should remain.

Soon enough, Supervisor Larry Cantwell also arrived on the scene and spoke to Mr. Gruber privately. Mr. Gruber said the supervisor, who did not stay long, told him the group was within its right watch the Friday night show, as a number of seaplanes, helicopters, jets and smaller aircraft arrived and took off.

The noise committee was created by the town to advise it on ways to reduce the impact of air traffic noise on the airport’s neighbors. It was disbanded after the town established curfews in 2015 and sought to limit the number of visits to and from the airport that could be made by those aircraft which do not meet noise thresholds. But members, who said the town’s noise-reduction efforts had fallen short of the mark, reorganized the group has a self-styled advisory committee last month.

On Friday, committee members complained that that some aircraft were being refueled so close to the building. They said while committee members were ordered to stand back for safety concerns, two young boys dashed out on the tarmac to greet their father as he disembarked from a helicopter. The group also raised questions about whether helicopters were being refueled before they cooled down after their arrival and whether airport staff were properly controlling operations as helicopters flew short distances after letting off passengers even as jets and seaplanes landed and took off.

This week, Mr. Cantwell, noting that the committee did not represent the town, agreed that Sound Aircraft should not have parked its trucks where it did, but he added that Mr. Gruber, who was photographed giving the middle finger a member of the grounds crew, was also at fault.

“There are important issues at the airport, and sometimes people’s individual behavior and emotions get in the way of the real substantive discussions that should take place,” the supervisor said. “When it gets petty, it doesn’t serve a public purpose.”

But Mr. Gruber said the visit was fruitful. “There has never been a census of how many people are getting off flights,” he said. “I was personally surprised by how few people got off any of those flights.” If the town had a better grip on that, it might be able require operators to use smaller aircraft, which would emit less noise, he said.

He also expressed concern that the town allowed Sound Aircraft to park its fuel trucks on a portion of the tarmac that it does not lease and questioned whether the airport follows proper protocol for its operations.

That’s not the case, responded Mr. Charlton. “There’s an extensive rule book sitting next to my desk,” he said. He added that restricting Sound Aircraft to only the portion of the tarmac they lease was unreasonable. “They run the entire ramp,” he said. “Telling them they can’t cross this line would be unreasonable.”

In response to committee members’ concerns about children on the tarmac, Mr. Charlton said airport personnel do their best. “That happened, from what I understand, when one of the people in the group went around the building” and onto the tarmac, he said. “If we’re dealing with that we would have stopped them.”

“I don’t think we can go on with this kind of amateur hour for an operation of this kind,” said Mr. Gruber. “We are operating as if we have a small-time, small-town government and we have some big-time problems. That’s a bad mix.”