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East Hampton Town Board delays airport’s temporary closing

The East Hampton Town Board on Thursday voted to put off its plans to temporarily close East Hampton Airport until May.

After conferring with attorneys in private at Thursday’s meeting, the board unanimously voted to delay the temporary closure until midnight on May 17, and to re-open the airport under new designation as a private airport 33 hours later, at 9 a.m. on May 19.

The resolution read by Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that the town met with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday and came to an agreement “acceptable to both parties” on a new timeline that would allow the town to affect the temporary closure of the airport and reopen it as a private airport, with “phased-in” restoration of the flight services that the airport currently offers: namely, GPS instrument approach routes and the use of the control tower to direct incoming aircraft.

The board had originally planned to close the airport at midnight on Feb. 28 and reopen it on March 4. But after that plan was approved in mid-January, a top FAA official said that the town was misguided in thinking it so quickly could reopen the airport with the same flight services it has long offered — claiming it could take the FAA up to two years to restore all those services.

On Tuesday, three separate lawsuits were filed by airport users and residents from around the South Fork, seeking to block the town for going forward with its plans. The first hearings on the request for a temporary restraining order blocking the move are due to be heard in state court Friday.

In a statement following the meeting, Mr. Van Scoyoc’s office said that the most recent meeting with federal agency, the FAA said it could approve most of the airports facilities except for the instrument flight guidance — a key component for many aircraft to land after dark or when weather conditions limit visibility.

But the new schedule, according to the town, would appear to allow it to bring its control tower back online immediately, giving the tower control of all aircraft in a five-mile radius of the airport.

“During the most recent meeting, the FAA noted that it expects to have all of its internal processes completed for opening of the new private-use airport, except for introduction of instrument flight procedures, no later than May 19, 2022,” the statement from the supervisor’s office says. “At the meeting between the Town and FAA on February 16, 2022, the FAA agreed that this postponement will enable the FAA to complete internal processes aimed at delivering a safe and solid foundation from which to operate a private-use airport and will also allow for reinstatement of instrument flight rules procedures at the private-use airport as soon as practicable.”

The move was met with applause from one pilots group, the East Hampton Community Alliance, and hopes that the delay would present an opportunity for more negotiations about alternatives to closure.

“East Hampton Community Alliance applauds the decision of the Town Board to delay the closure of HTO,” Erin Sweeney, the groups president, said in an email on Thursday. “We remain hopeful that productive discussions with the Town and airport users can avoid any type of closure and be the basis for a new future for HTO and our community.”

This article was first published by 27East.com and republished here with permission.