Flights, Complaints Up at East Hampton Airport

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By Mara Certic

Over half of the flights into and out of East Hampton Airport over the Memorial Day Weekend—a weekend that saw a 20 percent increase in traffic over last year—were the subject of noise complaints, airport manager Jim Brundige told the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday.

About 25 percent of all complaints came from eastern Sag Harbor Village, although senior airport attendant Peter Boody reported that “somewhere around 80 percent” of those complaints were from one particular resident of the village who “has a problem with aircraft noise” and makes numerous calls a day.

From May 22 through May 26, there were a total of 872 flights. The airport tracks flights through a combination of aircraft tracking, cameras and logs filled out by airport personnel. According to Mr. Brundige, there are limitations to the accuracy of the process, but that the best estimate shows that 40 percent of the activity over the holiday weekend was by helicopters.

The airport manager said there was a 20 percent increase in operations over Memorial Day 2013, and that increase resulted in airport managers and Eastern Regional Helicopter Council executive director Jeff Smith agreeing at a May 30 meeting to alter the southern helicopter approach to the airport because the existing rules “were not working.”

Prior to the Memorial Day weekend, helicopters would begin their descent over Georgica Pond and would do a “circling, descending route” over the airport before landing, Mr. Brundige said. The route has now been tweaked to make it safer by having helicopters continue eastbound, past Georgica Pond, before they start their descent from a height of 2,000 feet as all other air traffic does.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell expressed concern about the route shift. “The downside to this is more complaints,” he said. “I look at the [area] you suggested and I see more houses.”

That was a consideration of last week’s meeting, Mr. Brundige said, but those participating decided it was the best route for safety.

Mr. Cantwell reiterated his worries and said that “No matter how you look at it, there’s substantially more traffic over this period of time [than last year.] Substantially more complaints lead me to the conclusion that we need limits—we really need limits here.”

The airport manager attributed the increase in air traffic this year to better weather, and added, “we have the same helicopters coming and going as we have the past few years. We haven’t changed our clientele.”

Mr. Brundige also presented two resolutions for the town board to consider when it meets on Thursday, June 5.

The first is a proposal to increase landing fees by 10 percent in order to provide adequate revenue to maintain the airport, Mr. Brundige said. This would be effective immediately and would result in a $100,000 increase in revenue for the town for the remainder of this year. According to Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, landing fees provided approximately $1.3 million for the town last year, and are the airport’s “biggest source of revenue,” she said.

The second proposal is to increase the fuel charge from 15 to 30 cents a gallon. Cindy Herbst of Sound Aircraft Services, which operates at East Hampton Town Airport, expressed concern over the potential change. “There has to be some kind of justification for not raising it 5 cents but doubling it,” she said. “We have to pass that along to our customers and I’m not sure that we can do that.”

Some airports charge as much as 32 cents a gallon, she said, but that they provide operators better access.

The town’s budget and finance committee proposed the changes, said Mr. Brundige. “They did their homework; it’s really what the going rate is among other airports. This is their recommendation as a stop-gap for 2014.”

In 2002, when the 15-cent per gallon fee was adopted, the retail price for fuel was $2.52 per gallon. It now costs about $7, he said.

“I know it’s been a long time since the fee was raised,” Ms. Herbst told the board.  “I just don’t think that a 100-percent raise is justifiable. Please take that into consideration.”

The board suggested a sit-down with Ms. Herbst and Mr. Brundige before the resolution is considered during Thursday’s meeting.

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