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Nov 4, 2016 1:18 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Federal Appeals Court Orders East Hampton Town To Lift Airport Curfews

The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled against East Hampton Town's airport curfews.
Nov 8, 2016 4:47 PM

A federal court has ruled that the curfews imposed at East Hampton Airport over the last two summers must be abandoned—sparking declarations of relief by aviation interests and newly invigorated talks about closing the airport entirely in the near future by those most opposed to the noise the airport creates.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals, in a ruling issued on Friday, found that East Hampton Town overstepped its authority in imposing two curfews on flights in and out of East Hampton Airport.

The court agreed with the arguments made by attorneys for the Friends of East Hampton Airport—a collection of aviation businesses that rely on the airport and filed suit following the adoption of the curfews in the spring of 2015—that the town had failed to comply with the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, which was enacted by Congress to prevent a patchwork of local regulations from interfering with aircraft travel.

Town officials said in a statement on Friday that they had been led to believe, through a letter from the FAA to former U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, that the town would be able to enact “reasonable” restrictions on aircraft at the municipally owned and operated airport.

The curfews halted all flights into and out of the airport between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and restricted especially noisy aircraft to between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The appeals court upheld a previous injunction on a third town law that placed limits on the number of times a given aircraft could land or take off at the airport in a given week.

“The East Hampton Aviation Association appreciates the hard work and careful consideration by the court in issuing its ruling,” said Kent Feuerring, president of the Aviation Association, a group that represents pilots and airport interests and has lobbied against the curfews but was not affiliated with the lawsuit. “Aviation has been an integral part of our community for more than 80 years and we hope this ruling will allow that tradition to continue. We look forward to continuing to work with the Town of East Hampton and the community to find reasonable solutions for any airport noise-related concerns.”

The laws, adopted in 2015, were offered by the Town Board as an effort to tamp down the noise effects of the airport on residents living beneath flight paths. In an assessment earlier this year, consultants told the Town Board that the curfews had served to nudge aircraft operators toward quieter aircraft in general, reduced the number of helicopter flights and effectively ended late-night flights into and out of the airport.

This week’s ruling drew immediate criticism from local officials. The town, which owns the airport property and has spent more than $1 million fighting the Friends lawsuit and several others still pending, released a statement saying town officials are “deeply disappointed” at the ruling.

“Although today’s court decision places the solution to the aviation noise problem firmly at the feet of Congress and the FAA, the town will continue to explore every available option so that the residents of the East End won’t continue to be inflicted by an unrelenting din from the skies above,” the statement reads.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. also released a statement blasting the court for having expanded federal control and weakened home rule. He also hinted about the possibility of the town someday closing the airport entirely if it cannot find ways to adequately reduce the impacts the facility has on residents.

“The health and safety of its residents must always take precedence over commercial enterprise,” Mr. Thiele said in the statement. “While I have always believed that the responsible operation of an airport in East Hampton is an asset to the town, this court causes all responsible persons to first reconsider whether or not the town should be in the airport business.”

On Tuesday, Supervisor Larry Cantwell said that the Town Board is still exploring its options with its legal counsel and consultants who advise the board about airport management options.

Mr. Cantwell’s and Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez’s election to the Town Board in 2013 started the campaign by the town to upgrade airport facilities and rein in noise impacts on residents. Mr. Cantwell said that will continue to be their overarching goal.

“Our ability to locally control the airport based on this decision has been denied, so we have to look at what other options are available to us,” he said. “The Town Board’s goal has always been to maintain a safe airport and to enact local controls that would make it quiet enough to be a good neighbor. What legal remedies we have to do that in the face of this decision, we have to evaluate.”

The supervisor acknowledged that the ruling has only added fuel to the fire of calls to close the airport completely that arose this summer with the formation of a new group, Say No To KHTO, that has demanded the airport’s closure.

“The goal of this board has never been to close the airport,” he said, however. “As disappointed as we are, this is not a moment to jump to conclusions about its future.”

He noted that closing the airport would not even be up for consideration until 2022, when the last of the town’s agreed-to operational guarantees with the FAA from large grants in the past will expire. Even then, Mr. Cantwell said, proposing to close the airport would not be something the town could just do on its own without FAA involvement. But with the understanding that calls for closing the airport altogether are rising, Mr. Cantwell said he is hopeful that aircraft operators will find ways to cooperate with the town voluntarily to trim back the impacts on residents.

“I think the aviation interests have to understand that if this problem continues to get worse,” he said, “there will be growing sentiment to close the airport from parts of this community.”

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That ain't good. INo biggie for small plane but closing the airport to all but emergency flights might have to be considered if commercial aviation interests don't exercise some self-control. The curfews seem to work for everyone. Just a coincidence that a loud plane is flying above my house multiple miles from the airport as I write this?
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Nov 4, 16 1:35 PM
Yes that was a C--130 out of Gabreski that flew by carrying the honorable men and women of our Air Force Reserves on a training mission. Keep complaining about them...
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 4, 16 7:26 PM
Totally predicable. This Town Board (in this case, particularly Mr. Cantwell and Ms. Burke-Gonzalez) wrongly believe that their "Local Laws" reign supreme and that can simply ignore well established state and federal limitations on their authority. In most cases, the opposite is true. This Board just wasted millions of taxpayer dollars to be reminded of that fact. They should be embarrassed. The taxpayers should be outraged. What a total unmitigated disaster for the East Hampton Town Board and ...more
By Colt (37), Wainscott on Nov 4, 16 2:40 PM
1 member liked this comment
LocalEH.. Wrong. Again. Was not a 130 which I'm well familiar with. Was a commuter plane out of EH.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Nov 4, 16 9:38 PM
This is a most unfortunate decision. Greed will kill this airport.
By Amelia Airport (48), East Hampton on Nov 5, 16 4:13 AM
The decision of the federal court leaves East Hampton Town with no alternative but to close the airport. The ruling makes it clear that the town has no authority to regulate the aircraft that use its facility. However, there is no bar to its simply shuttering it.

Who could have predicted such a draconian outcome? If only the local airport users had been cooperative (and neighborly) instead of confrontational..

Now the problem shifts to Gabreski Airport and Montauk. You poor ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Nov 5, 16 4:38 AM
2 members liked this comment
As the other local weekly's editorial discussed a few weeks ago.

The stubbornness of the aviation community to be good neighbors in terms of noise is coming back to haunt them.

Just desserts?

Fiddle Fiddle Fiddle !!!

By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Nov 5, 16 7:05 AM
They can't just up and decide to close the airport. Again, just like this case, there are federal rules that prohibit that kind of action. And now the FAA is motivated to save this airport. Trying to close it will just result in millions more in taxpayer funded attorneys fees being thrown away again. The town board needs to stop listening to your really bad advice. Stop trying to create more problems, swallow your hubris, and work with the aviation community to reasonably mitigate any legitimate ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 5, 16 5:22 PM
1 member liked this comment
Too late, tried that. Local pilots and their association aused a large part of this problem through---greed, plain and simple, simply not wanting to make any concessions and not wanting to pay for the costs of their "hobby". A bit late to cry now.....
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Nov 10, 16 7:58 PM
Is there enough land there to build a golf course?
By Toma Noku (616), Southampton on Nov 5, 16 8:11 AM
Wow is this gonna SUCK for the people of North Sea, Noyack & Sag Harbor, when the helicopters turn right at the Northville Tanks they fly in fast and furious over our shores. At least it didnt start until 9 am and ended at 11 pm. Now its just gonna go back to the way it was. Tourism and house sales are gonna suffer in the flight path. Billions in lost revenue to CPF and local retail coffers.

This is going to start up many protests. Perhaps if the judges and the FAA lived in our neighborhood ...more
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Nov 5, 16 8:21 AM
No it's not. If you finally stop attacking the aviation community and start to cooperate and work with them. The aviation community is willing to voluntarily comply with the same curfews but without the ridiculous criminal penalties over their heads. No more having groups of aircraft hovering and circling overhead while waiting for the curfew to expire because they can spread things out a bit over a broader geographic area to not inundate the same people below. Some reasonable aircraft noise will ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 5, 16 5:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
I thought the town was not accepting FAA money and therefore had more control over hours, etc.?
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Nov 5, 16 1:15 PM
Unfortunately that was a lie told to the town board by anti-airport activists and the board believed it. The aviation community repeatedly warned the town for years that the acceptance or non-acceptance of FAA funds made no difference because there was a federal act (ANCA) that directly controls how noise regulations can be imposed on all airports, no matter who owns them. The town was told they were being misled, but they chose to listen to the wrong people (some of them have posted above) and ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 5, 16 4:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
That's awful. The airport situation doesn't effect me as far as the noise goes but obviously having the town waste money on lawsuits is very frustrating.
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Nov 7, 16 11:02 AM
it effects me big time, and im not alone
By yassar arafar (33), sag harbor on Nov 10, 16 12:32 PM
The lawsuits (7 in all) were placed by the commercial operators and a couple of small time local businesses with aviation interests) ...charter operators of seaplane, helicopter and turboprop and jets they use to shutlle the privileged to and from l NYC directly above homes of thousands of families who derive no benefit from the private transportation for the convenience of a few.
The writer above is one of those responsible for the out of control growth of the airport brought about by incessant ...more
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Nov 10, 16 8:05 PM
So if they can only manage to get Trump elected as POTUS, the rich white men will be happy, at least for a few days.
By Arnold Timer (327), Sag Harbor on Nov 5, 16 2:37 PM
Thanks Tim Bishop. Another do-nothing. Did you accomplish anything in those 12 years other than kissing Obama's butt for 8 of them?
By fire11 (276), east hampton on Nov 5, 16 6:45 PM
to localEH:

Actually, according to the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), airports are closing in this country at the rate of 1.4/mo. Moreover, contrary to your assertion, the only federal hindrance to an airport's closure would if the airport's owners had accepted FAA grants that required its continued operation - - - and the EH town board wisely chose NOT to accept NEW FAA grants. Only unexpired obligations (if any) under the OLD grants could delay the process.

In ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Nov 6, 16 3:31 AM
1 member liked this comment
Your spreading this kind of misinformation (either intentional or woefully ignorant) is the reason the town just wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a pointless effort. The closure of those airports was only accomplished with the express approval of the FAA, and the vast majority of those airports were old grass strips and unused facilities. There is a well known grant obligation that extends to 2021 which directly precludes the town from closing the airport without the FAA's express permission ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 6, 16 7:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 6, 16 7:00 PM
to localEH:

You are paranoid, localEH, but thanks for confirming my statement that it is only the airport’s possible continuing obligations from previous grants that could empower the federal government to prevent its closure - - - and for notifying us that those grants expire in 2021 (which is, at least, within sight) - - - and for verifying that the FAA has the discretionary authority to excuse the obligations imposed by those grants. Thanks as well for alerting us to the possible ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Nov 7, 16 2:16 AM
The real question is, can we sue the lawyers that the town is paying millions of dollars to for malpractice is it has been clear from the bringing that this quixotic quest to ignore federal law is not going to succeed.

Don't worry - the lawyers will happily take our money for appeals for the next several years.

It is time to consider alternatives, including charging a significant premium for landing during the evenings and early mornings. This will naturally decrease traffic ...more
By ads02129 (14), Charlestown on Nov 10, 16 1:00 PM