By Mara Certic
The first reports about summer activity at East Hampton Airport for 2015 are in, and while the town has learned that some types of flights have increased this year, their numbers are nowhere near the numbers of complaints that have been flooding in since January 1.
East Hampton Airport Manager Jemille Charlton presented flight data and complaint data for three specific periods to the town board on Tuesday: from January to June, the Memorial Day weekend, and Fourth of July weekend.
Overall from January to June, there has actually been a 4-percent decrease in the total number of operations in and out of East Hampton airport—but Mr. Charlton and members of the board pointed out that was likely due to a cold and snowy winter that settled in and didn’t do very much for local tourism or aviation.
The increase over the holiday weekends, however, is much more noticeable, with seaplane activity increasing dramatically over both weekends last year. Councilwoman Kathee Burke Gonzalez, who acts as the town board’s liaison to the airport, mentioned that the ride-sharing mobile app Blade had recently diversified to include not just helicopter shuttles—but seaplanes too.
But the number of complaints has increased dramatically, and Mr. Charlton said that the majority of them are coming from the North Fork. There are not only more households complaining than there were last year, but also many more complaints per individual household.
This year the town has implemented several new systems to track both aircraft and the complaints about them in an effort to get a handle on who’s coming in when. While the programs are up and running, Mr. Charlton and Ms. Burke Gonzalez said that different programs are still having trouble communicating with one another.
“The system isn’t 100 percent yet. We basically built this from the ground up,” Mr. Charlton explained. “But we can see tracks on one system as far west as Brookhaven Airport. Certain days I’ve gone back and I’ve seen tracks from Connecticut. We’re getting immensely more accurate.”
That accuracy, he said, should allow him to determine if any of the flights that residents are complaining about don’t actually originate or end up at the East Hampton Airport.
Since the adoption of two curfews, and a third restriction which is still tied up in court, Mr. Charlton said he has seen a huge market shift, and that many people have traded in noisy aircraft for their quieter counterparts.
Separately, Councilwoman Burke Gonzalez proposed a new landing fee schedule, after the one she presented last month was met with criticism and advice from local residents and airport users.
In July, she suggested a hike in landing fees that would have had the heaviest—and often noisiest—aircraft paying $20 per 1,000 pounds and lighter aircraft paying a lower fee per 1,000 pounds.
“Let me first say how pleased I am that we got useful and productive advice. We have listened to the differing points of view and we have crafted a revised proposal that tries to respond to much of the advice we received,” Ms. Burke Gonzalez said.
Instead of the original proposal, the town’s consultants have recommended a different fee structure that charges the same rate for all aircraft in a single weight class. Ms. Burke Gonzalez said it “appears to be the best way to minimize the number of aircraft that could potentially face very large increases.”
They have also proposed to introduce a $75 noise management fee for every landing of a “noisy aircraft.” The new rates would be $800 for the heaviest aircraft over 50,000 pounds, $550 for those between 25,000 and 49,999, pounds, $275 for the 10,000 to 24,999 range, $100 for aircraft that weigh between 5,000 and 9,999 pounds and $25 for those weighing in under 5,000 but more than 2,600 pounds. Any aircraft lighter than that would be allowed to land for no charge.
The board will vote on the new fee schedule when it meets on Thursday, August 6, at 6:30 p.m.