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Apr 20, 2018 8:19 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Ousts Popular Helicopter Service From Airport, Files Complaint With Federal Agency

Helicopters operated by Fly Blade at East Hampton Airport last summer. The company has had its license to operate a passenger services booth at the airport revoked by the town and a complaint has been filed with the federal government claiming the company is operating as a passenger air service, not a charter company. MIchael WRight
Apr 24, 2018 2:29 PM

East Hampton Town officials last week revoked the charter helicopter company Fly Blade Inc.’s license to keep a passenger services booth at East Hampton Airport, claiming that the company is deviating from its approved operating model.

The town alleges that Blade is basically running scheduled passenger flights to the airport, rather than charter flights, and maintains that they add to helicopter traffic more than would typical non-commercial general aviation flights alone.

The town has also sent a formal complaint about the company to the U.S. Department of Transportation, noting that the federal agency has cited Blade before and fined it $40,000 for violating its approved business model as a charter operator.

In a resolution approved unanimously last Thursday night, April 19, the Town Board agreed to essentially evict Blade from East Hampton Airport’s terminal, where the company has had a small customer service booth for the last two summers. The people who staffed the booth mostly weighed luggage and helped Blade customers—who use a mobile phone app to schedule flights on a mix of helicopters and seaplanes—find their way to the right aircraft on the airport’s tarmac.

Aircraft licensed by Blade still will be able to fly in and out of the airport in the same manner they did last year, absent only the ground support.

In its complaint to the federal department, the town nodded to previous violations issued by the federal agency, which were based on the company’s use of branding and of its mobile phone app for scheduling that made Blade appear to be, and operate effectively as, a commercial passenger aircraft company.

After the federal violations, the town claims, Blade was supposed to alter its business practice, but it appears either to have not changed anything or to have resumed an approach to booking hundreds of flights each summer between New York City and East Hampton Airport that is still violating its operational approvals.

“Until such time that they prove that they are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, they have no place at East Hampton Airport,” stated Councilman Jeffrey Bragman, co-liaison for the East Hampton Airport, in a press release on Friday. “Ride-sharing of helicopters which masquerades as scheduled service is damaging to our community and small airport.”

Blade itself does not own any helicopters, it only operates the booking service, though many of the aircraft seen at the airport on busy weekends have the Blade logo affixed to them.

There are several companies that arrange flights to East Hampton from city helipads and seaplane ports.

Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski said on Friday morning that the complaint and the revocation of Blade’s license are the first salvo in an effort by the town to crack down on companies that are “misusing” the town airport.

“The town believes Fly Blade operations do not comply with federal statues with regard to commercial air carriers,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said on Friday. “The town faces a steep increase in air traffic through businesses that appear to offer, in advance, scheduled passenger service to the airport, either through smartphone applications or by offering scheduled passenger service to the public directly. It has an obligation not just to ensure that the airport remains safe for all users, but also that adequate disclosures are made to the traveling public with respect to commercial arrangements at the airport.”

He added that the town will be looking at all the companies that drive aircraft traffic to the airport in a manner similar to Blade, with an eye to raising objections with the Department of Transportation if they are not adhering to the operating format they are approved for.

“We’re going to scrutinize any company that seems to not be operating within the parameters they’re supposed to be,” he said. “If they’re not operating in a way that’s permissible, we are going to call them on it.”

Attorney Eddie Burke Jr., who responded to a request for comment at the company’s headquarters, said this week that the company had not been contacted by the town about the issue and that it has requested to meet with town officials to go over its compliance with federal guidelines.

“Blade arranges helicopter and seaplane flights to multiple destinations on the East End of Long Island and elsewhere in the Northeast, in full compliance with all DOT regulations,” Mr. Burke said in an emailed statement.

Charter helicopter companies have been offering flights between the city and East Hampton for nearly 20 years, but in the last decade the number of such flights every day has soared as charter companies found ways to effectively sell seats on flights individually, by the dozens each weekend, for between $500 and $1,000 one way.

As complaints about the noise from helicopters using the town airport have also increased, the town has sought ways to constrain the traffic. Last week, the Town Board was given a number of options for approaches it might take in asking the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to limit flights—including imposing quotas on a given operator. In 2015, it had sought to limit any given aircraft, identified by its registration number, to a single landing and takeoff per week, but was blocked by a federal judge.

Blade’s app currently offers seats on two flights—one by helicopter and one by seaplane—into East Hampton Airport and then Montauk this coming Friday, April 27, for $695 on the seaplane and $795 per seat on the helicopter. On May 25, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, there are already five scheduled flights with seats available for $795.

The company organizes flights in five East Coast states and California, where it markets flights to music festivals, telling customers to “arrive like one of the artists.”

For its Hamptons flights, the site tells customers: “Book by the seat, charter, or crowd-source your own flight and sell unused seats to others.”

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Will the local pilots support the board’s action, or will they crawl back into bed with the noisy chopper industry?

“When you lie down with dogs don’t complain if you wake up with fleas!”
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 20, 18 9:36 AM
Huh?? PBR you just get more and more disconnected from logic and reality. Just because local pilots support the safe and continued operation of our airport and the helicopter companies also support the safe and continued operation of the airport does not mean we are "in bed" together. The board's decision has nothing to do with local pilots. We STRONGLY support everyone involved to follow the FAA rules and regulations (that includes the board). If Blade has been violating its operational approvals ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Apr 20, 18 12:38 PM
Thank you so much East Hampton board
By mr. met (7), Sagaponack on Apr 20, 18 9:44 AM
1 member liked this comment
Good job on making East Hampton an even worse place to do business. Real smart lol
By TrueHamptons (33), Sag Harbor on Apr 20, 18 12:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 20, 18 6:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
Boo Hoo. Now all the elites will have to take a limo. There are bigger travesties for these people who were born on third and think they got a triple.
By DiseaseDiocese (668), Riverhead on Apr 20, 18 11:06 PM
Thank Goodness. The non stop helicopters coming in fast and loud has disrupted the quiet use and enjoyment of people in Noyac. This should help local pilots were never an issue, its the onslaught of the helicopters and low flying buzz bomb sea planes, that are the majority of the noise makers.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Apr 21, 18 7:52 AM
1 member liked this comment
Yup, the helicopter crowd will opt for Utica if constraints are imposed on the whirlybirds. The economy will be in shambles!

Floating helipads? Now that’s a new one. Add a Tiki Bar and I’m all for it!

By harbor (415), East Hampton on Apr 21, 18 8:01 AM
1 member liked this comment
Google “floating helipad Ritz Carlton Miami” for a good look at the version there. Unfortunately no tiki bar though (wind from the heli probably blows the drinks over).
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Apr 21, 18 10:36 AM
So the local EH pilots are in favor of Blade's plans, which according to your comment above, " . . . to just send exponentially MORE of its helicopters to SH heliport, Montauk airport, and the floating helipads they are going to set up in Sag Harbor."


Good luck with that!

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 21, 18 11:20 AM
That has to be the most twisted and tortured, not to mention completely 180 degrees opposite, interpretation of what I said. Why on earth would we be in FAVOR of those plans since they require a closing the airport?!? That’s the worst possible outcome because Blade still inundates the area with helis but us quiet little plane local pilots are permanently grounded with no runways. You have disappeared so far into crazyland there’s just no purpose in having a discussion with you anymore. ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Apr 21, 18 6:37 PM
remove all heli flights let small planes or hidroplanes only they make muck less noise!
By dany (33), Water Mill on Apr 21, 18 8:57 PM