A pilots group this week released an economic study it commissioned that says the people who arrive in the Hamptons each year through East Hampton Airport drive nearly $80 million in spending and support more than 800 jobs.
The study, commissioned by the East Hampton Community Alliance, draws on estimates from a previous study that, adjusted to the 2019 consumer price index, says those who arrive locally via private or chartered aircraft spend an average of more than $1,700 per person, per visit.
With more than 45,000 entries to the area through the airport in 2019 — based on the number of “transient” flights to the airport and an estimated average of four passengers per flight — the study says the airport’s users spur more than $48 million in profits for local businesses and $34.9 million in salaries.
The study does not detail how its research reached the 872 jobs it says are generated by the airport, or whether those jobs are based solely on the South Fork, and does not explain how it estimated the total in salaries.
It does say that about 65 are jobs at the airport itself: five administration staff who work for the town, five air traffic controllers who man the airport’s control tower in summer and 55 full- or part-time employees of the various businesses based at the airport, including rental car companies and charter flight greeters and the airport’s main operations company, Sound Aviation, for whom the attendants that direct aircraft on the tarmac, load and unload passengers and refuel aircraft work.
The economic ripples emanating from the airport spotlighted in the report were calculated using only data for East Hampton Town, Sag Harbor Village and some of the eastern hamlets in Southampton Town, it says. Those areas, the study’s drafters say, account for a total economic output of some $3.6 billion and 24,000 jobs.
The study was compiled by Boston-based economic analysis and research firm EBP, using an online economic analysis and planning program called IMPLAN, and drawing extensively on data compiled in 2012 by the Rudin Center at NYU, a transportation policy and management think tank.
The East Hampton Community Alliance was founded last year by a group of pilots and plan owners who have said they hope to rally community support for keeping the airport open in the face of calls from residents of neighborhoods beneath its flight path to close it.
The group has said it thinks that most East Hampton residents would prefer to have the airport in their midst, even if they have never actually flown in or out of it. But the groups says it believes that many, if not most, are unaware of the push to close it or that East Hampton Town officials have hinted at the possibility when the town will be freed from the legal strings attached to past Federal Aviation Administration grants. The FAA and federal courts have rebuffed town efforts to rein in the din from aircraft traffic, especially that from commuter helicopter flights that had exploded in volume in the last decade — before the pandemic brought them to a screeching, but probably temporary, halt.
“We did this study to build the case for keeping the airport here,” said Gianpaolo de Felice, a pilot, local restaurant owner and one of the founders of the group. “We think this shows the town the value of this asset.”
Mr. de Felice said that the airport is actually underutilized and could be a more significant economic and cultural component of the local community if it offered more of the amenities that many small regional airports do: like a luncheonette, aircraft maintenance and repair facilities or even an aviation museum and educational facility to attract kids and families.
The group is also working with aviation groups that use the airport on ways to tamp down the noise impacts when, presumably, the volume of aircraft traffic returns in coming years as the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully eases. It is pressing for stricter compliance to voluntary curfews, flight paths that avoid as many homes as possible and higher altitudes for approaches.
But they are also banking that if push comes to shove, a public that the sees the airport as an asset will carry a lot of weight with the politicians counting votes.
“We are not against the anti-airport people, we’re very sensitive to their complaints, we know the noise needs to be addressed and we are working on that, too,” Mr. de Felice said. “But we think there are a lot of benefits to the airport that most residents would prefer not be lost.”