The New York State Appellate Division, Second Department, issued two rulings March 27 in the ongoing litigation against East Hampton Town by users of the town’s municipally owned airport in Wainscott.

The appeals court ruled that East Hampton was not allowed to close its public use airport and reopen it again days later as a “private use” airport, as it attempted to do back in 2022, and ruled that the town must follow the procedural requirements of the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA) before adopting restrictions on aircraft that use the airport.

The lawsuits, brought by East End Hangars, Inc., Coalition to Keep East Hampton Airport Open Ltd. and Blade Air Mobility, Inc. in February of 2022, attempted to stop the town from closing and reopening the airport, but the town decided to go ahead with changing the airport’s FAA identifiers despite a May 2022 temporary restraining order issued by Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Paul Baisley, Jr. one day before the planned closure, after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would be unsafe to not go ahead with the change.

The closure and reopening had been timed to correspond with the updating of FAA charts changing the airport identifier from “HTO” to “JPX.”

“This means that pilots cannot use HTO as an origin or destination on a flight plan or file a flight plan to HTO,” wrote FAA’s Regional Administrator, Marie Kennington-Gardiner, in a letter before the town decided to go ahead with the change. “This presents aviation safety risks in the congested New York airspace.”

The court later found the town in contempt of its order, most recently in May of 2023.

The town had planned to implement restrictions at the reopened airport, including limiting aircraft to one takeoff and one landing per day and setting airport hours of operation at 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends, as well as limiting noisy aircraft.

In the years since, the town has begun working on the lengthy Part 161 study the court says it needs in order to set restrictions at the airport under ANCA regulations. 

“The Town of East Hampton is deeply disappointed in the outcome of the appeals,” said the town in a March 28 statement. “The town proceeded in good faith to find a solution to address the long-standing noise and environmental impacts from the airport on the town and its surrounding communities and remains committed to that goal, as the status quo is not acceptable.”

“The town sought to convince the appellate court that previous rulings that prevented them from closing the airport were wrong. The court’s unequivocal decision is consistent with every previous court decision which has denied the Town motions and a reminder that the Town has been held in contempt in its lawfare against this airport,” said James M. Catterson of the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, who argued the case on behalf of hangar associations East End Hangars and Hampton Hangars, in a statement. “Despite multiple attempts to appeal the state court’s decisions, the town has lost at every turn.  In May of 2023, a state court held the town in contempt for the second time in two years and ordered the town to pay attorneys’ fees. The appellate court upheld that finding of contempt.”

The town said it is now reviewing its further options.

“At this time, the Town Board is reviewing its options with counsel and carefully assessing a way forward, including seeking clarification from the courts and the FAA regarding the Town’s rights and obligations with respect to the Airport and any additional procedural steps that need to be taken prior to implementing proposed restrictions as part of the town’s ongoing environmental review,” according to the town. “The East Hampton Town Airport remains open to the public and fully operational.”

Mr. Catterson said he believes airport users will be willing to work with the town on voluntary flight restrictions “that seek to address the concerns of residential neighbors.”

“I am confident that the aviation community hopes this latest court decision opens the door to the type of discussion that will lead to a prompt resolution of this long-running legal dispute,” he said.


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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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