Editorial: The End Game?

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The East Hampton Town Board is now caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, as it struggles to find a solution to the vexing problem of noise pollution at East Hampton Airport.

Ever since a federal appeals court last fall tossed out the town’s effort to impose meaningful curfews, it has been staring at the prospect of asking the permission of the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate an airport that has increasingly become a thorn in the side of its neighbors, as well as residents living farther afield.

The mechanism to seek that FAA approval is what’s called a Part 161 study, a process that promises to be both lengthy and expensive, with no guarantees of success.

Airport users this week made a good show of supporting the town in this endeavor. Several of them, in fact, said they have always supported curfews, but simply opposed the way the town had bypassed the FAA approval process in establishng them two years ago.

That, of course, begs the question: Are those same users sincere, knowing as they must that only one municipality, Naples, Florida, has ever been successful in establishing local control over its airport through the Part 161 process?

Now is their opportunity to prove they are, in fact, sincere. Everyone knows the real problem at the airport is not local recreational pilots, but the growing number of commuter helicopter and seaplane services that seem to care little for the impact their aircraft have on the people living below their flight paths. Local pilots must do everything they can to bring those operators to the table and convince them of the need to voluntarily accept some meaningful restrictions, like minimum approach heights and night-time curfews.

Otherwise, the town will be forced to invest several million dollars and spend several years trying to make its case to the FAA. Should it fail in that effort, don’t be surprised if townspeople, tired of squandering money on trying to fix the airport, decide it’s more bother than it’s worth and demand the town close it down.

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