Flights into and out of East Hampton Airport were up 7.5 percent in the first half of 2019 and are on track to climb by 10 percent by the end of the year.
Helicopters continued to make up about 30 percent of the overall traffic at the airport and were down slightly overall for the year to date — though they increased by 7 percent in July, with 146 more helicopter flights last month than in July 2018.
Most of the overall increase in traffic this year is due to flights by “general aviation” aircraft — privately owned small propeller-driven planes — which have increased by 18 percent this year. Airport manager Jim Brundige told Town Board members on Tuesday, that increase in such flights may simply be due to better weather on weekends this year, because last year saw several weekends of the summer beset by poor weather that kept hobbiest pilots grounded.
Mr. Brundige also said that the first two weeks of August saw a more than 26 percent spike in overall traffic, compared to the same period last year. If the increased volume continues apace the airport will see a 10 percent increase in overall traffic for the year, he added.
Traffic at the airport has grown modestly since the Great Recession and actually declined slightly in 2018 compared to 2017. But at the same time, the number of flights by helicopters has soared, up by more than 50 percent since 2016, the last year town-imposed curfews were in place.
Residents of neighborhoods in Southampton, East Hampton and on the North Fork have continued to lobby the East Hampton Town Board to start work on a plan to close the airport in 2021, when federal grant requirements expire.
“I have a bull’s-eye on my house,” said North Fork resident John McCaskie, who came to speak at the Town Board meeting on Tuesday. He read off the times that helicopters flew over his house between 6:50 a.m. and 8 a.m. on a recent Monday morning — 24 in all. He added, “I’m asking that when you get control of your airport that you close it.”
The town has been working on crafting an application to the Federal Aviation Administration seeking permission to reimpose curfews and make other restrictions that could dial back aircraft traffic. The town is also lobbying lawmakers for legislative relief if the FAA declines. If all else fails, town lawmakers have warned, the sentiment of residents could lead to a closure — although current Town Board members have said they are not in favor of closing the airport.
“We are certainly sympathetic to this issue and we are trying to get ahold of it,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said.