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Report: More flights, noise complaints at East Hampton Airport

09/16/2015 6:00 AM |

The amount of air traffic at East Hampton Town Airport, as well as noise complaints and lawsuits, has significantly increased over the last year, a new study has found.

East Hampton Town released a report this week detailing the controversial airport’s operations:

• Total airport operations between the months of January and July increased 29 percent from 2014 to 2015. In comparison, operations increased 49 percent between 2013 and 2015.

• Helicopters, which have been the focus of the noise complaints in recent years, only increased by one percent from 2014 to 2015. Helicopter operations decreased since 2013.

• About 3,715 helicopter used the airport from Jan. 1 to July 31.

• Jet usage has decreased eight percent to a total of about 1,850 flights since 2014, down from 2,020 flights.

• Seaplane operations increased to about 1,540 flights between 2014 to 2015, which represents a nearly 70 percent hike. There were 870 flights in 2013 and 907 flights in 2014.

• Other fixed-wing aircraft, which had the largest number of operations by far, increased 51 percent as of July 31 totaling about 10,110 flights.

Then there’s the number of complaints about aircraft for 2014 and 2015:

• The total number of complaints in 2015 rose to 16,215, a 59 percent increase. Those complaints were from 430 households, which represents a 7 percent hike over the previous year. The average number of complaints made per household rose 40 percent to 35 complaints.

• Helicopter noise drew the most complaints, with 11,110 in 2015. There were about 2,320 complaints about propellor planes; nearly 1,560 complaints about for jets; and 1,000 complaints for seaplanes.

• Complaints that fell under the “unknown/general” category went up from 32 to 226.

Complaints about the East Hampton airport has become a hot topic in Southold, Shelter Island and Riverhead towns since many of those planes fly across the North Fork to get to the airport in East Hampton.

The increase in air traffic was also discussed at an Aug. 13 meeting in Peconic.

In an interview on Tuesday, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he believes the increase in complaints is “not surprising.”

“Increases in flights, along with public awareness on how and where to file a complaint, are two of the major factors,” he said. “Currently, Southold is waiting for the court process [in East Hampton] to bring us relief. People should continue to complain. Statistics matter, especially on an issue like this.”

Then there are the lawsuits.

When East Hampton enacted three new laws last April designed to address aircraft noise, the proposals ran into opposition from aviation groups.

“Just as we expected, the opponents filed lawsuits,” East Hampton Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said. “Currently, there are six legal actions pending against the Town of East Hampton. Some of these are direct challenges to the new local laws. Others are more direct and address our decision to forego federal funding in order to be able to adopt noise restrictions.”

Two of the cases were filed in federal court, both of which were filed by a group called Friends of the East Hampton Airport, which is seeking to overturn the new laws.

A federal judge upheld two of the three laws, allowing the town to enact a curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and to enact a more restrictive curfew on noisy aircraft, that runs from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.

The third law, which imposed a one-trip-per-week restriction on noisy aircraft in the summer, was temporarily shot down by the judge, who said the town is prohibited from enacting it until the case is decided.

Friends of the East Hampton Airport filed one federal lawsuit against the town and one against the Federal Aviation Administration, both seeking to prevent the enforcement of the newly adopted restrictions.

There are also three administrative lawsuits filed against the town, which are heard by the FAA rather than the court, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said. Two of them challenge aviation fee increases enacted by the town and the other one challenges the new restrictions.

Another lawsuit was filed in state supreme court by Sound Aircraft, which is a fixed-base operator at East Hampton Airport. It challenges aviation fee increases enacted by the town.

“We will vigorously defend all of the litigation,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said. “The three local laws we enacted were designed to compliment each other and work comprehensively to address the noise problem in a balanced, reasonable  manner.”

Based on the feedback the town has received, she said the two laws that were upheld have not solved the problem.

“The one-trip-per-week limit is crucial in limiting aircraft noise,” she added.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell has said that the three laws together would have decreased the number of helicopter landings per year from 4,000 to 1,000.

Mr. Russell said he’s confident East Hampton Town will be able to “defend it’s right to regulate it own air space” and described the law restricting helicopters to one trip a week as “critical for reducing noise overhead.”

“I am eager to see that go into effect as soon as East Hampton prevails in court,” he said.

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