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Jun 2, 2015 6:18 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Shuttles Take To East Hampton Despite Rules, Memorial Day Weekend Saw Noise Onslaught

Helicopters and jets have had three weeks to fly into East Hampton Airport without any restrictions to stop them. SHAYE WEAVER
Jun 2, 2015 6:18 PM

A window of time—from when new East Hampton Airport access regulations were supposed to take effect, to June 8, when a federal court judge will rule on a preliminary injunction requested by aviation interests that would block them—has allowed noisy helicopters and jets to return in all their house-shaking glory.

Noise-affected residents of East Hampton Town are rattled more so than in recent years, knowing they were very close to quieting the skies, according to Kathy Cunningham, the chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition, a group formed to fight the noise from the airport.

“It’s been terrible,” she said. “It was as bad as it’s ever been, and it’s depressing, because we had the expectation that it wouldn’t be so bad. It was not mitigated and was actually worse than ever.”

According to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, however, only four operations over the holiday weekend did not comply with prescribed routes and altitude requirements.

The number of operations at the airport was not being released by the town, according to Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, but Ms. Cunningham said the number during Memorial Day weekend could have been as much as 25 percent higher than last year’s total. She guessed that more than 1,000 complaints were logged with the town just over the weekend.

The Town Board adopted three new regulations in April that were aimed at combating airport noise: a curfew banning all flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., year-round; aircraft classified as “noisy” are not permitted to take off or land between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m., year-round; and aircraft classified as “noisy” are allowed only one takeoff and landing per week between May and September. These rules would affect most helicopters and some older jets.

A contingent of aviation businesses, which call themselves Friends of the East Hampton Airport, sued the town in opposition and requested a TRO and preliminary injunction, which could last until the court makes a ruling on the case. The hearing on the injunction will continue on Monday, June 8. Until then, the town has agreed to hold off on implementing the rules.

According to David Gruber, someone who has fought airport noise for years and sits on the airport noise subcommittee, an overwhelming number of helicopter and seaplane operations are charters, and about 50 to 60 percent of jet operations are charters or shared ownership arrangements.

“It’s really a combination of technical innovation and increasing wealth that made air commuting to East Hampton not only viable but available to people who would have never considered it previously,” he said. “That really marks the rise of the noise problem as well.”

New charter and shuttle companies have recently sprung up, taking full advantage of the still free and open airport.

Beacon, on-demand private jet service, is coming to the Hamptons for the first time in a few months, missing the summer, despite the new forthcoming regulations. The company will use quieter aircraft—single-engine turboprops—to transport its passengers.

“We want to be sensitive to the community surrounding the airport,” said Wade Eyerly, CEO and founder of Beacon. “We’re always paying attention. If you’re building with such practices in mind and keep your eye further down that field, there’s usually not a problem in the short term.”

The Titan Aviation Group, which runs a “very quiet” 30-passenger twin-engine jet, called Ultimate Air Shuttle, will fly into Westhampton Beach at Francis S. Gabreski Airport and is still considering whether to fly into East Hampton Airport.

“Jets will still be able to go there,” Dirk van der Sterre, owner and manager of a fixed based operator company at Morristown Airport in New Jersey that has partnered with Ultimate Jet to provide the service, said of East Hampton Airport. “A shuttle can still go in there and bring 23 people into East Hampton at one time and 23 people out. But helicopters? I wouldn’t invest in it personally. Helicopters will be doing great in Southampton. I don’t see the Federal Aviation Administration overturning this with the amount of money being pushed for this.”

Mr. van der Sterre said he wouldn’t like to have a helicopter flying 500 feet above his house either—but it’s a double-edged sword he said: “It’s hard, because having an airport brings in a ton of money in the summers that the town wouldn’t have.”

Gabriel Sandler, the director for the company Executive Jets for North America, said he has been following East Hampton Town’s official maneuvers very closely and will now have to “get creative to divert traffic and give our customers the most amount of flexibility required to justify the cost of paying for a private charter.”

The London-based company, with offices all over the United States, including Uniondale, says it can arrange ground transportation for those who must fly into Westhampton Beach, Southampton Village or Montauk. “The problem is that this industry as a whole is just on the incline,” he said. “Since the recession, the private jet industry has had a huge rebound.”

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