Helicopter restrictions are on the table at the East Hampton Airport
Helicopter restrictions are on the table at the East Hampton Airport

The March 12 public hearing on restricting noisy air traffic at the East Hampton Airport drew out many supporters of the airport, a far cry from a packed hearing last August in which most people who spoke were for noise restrictions.

Over the course of nearly four hours, 72 speakers addressed concerns ranging from whether air traffic would be diverted to other airports on the South Fork to whether the town had budgeted enough for litigation anticipated if the restrictions are put in place.

The proposed restrictions include a mandatory nighttime curfew, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., an extended curfew on noisy aircraft (not including turboprops) from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m., a ban on all helicopters on weekends during the summer season and a limit on operations by noisy aircraft of one trip per week during the summer season.

If approved, they would be in force for a trial period between May 1 and Oct. 31 of this year, after which they would be evaluated and the town board would discuss whether to make the regulations permanent or modify them.

Elected officials from throughout the East End voiced their support for the restrictions, though Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she is concerned that severe restrictions in East Hampton could result in more air traffic en route to Gabreski Airport in Westhampton or the Southampton Village helipad.

Mitchell Moss of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, said his study of the economic impact of the proposals shows the restrictions are “going to have an effect on revenue for the town.”

He said many people who currently come to East Hampton by helicopter would likely chose to go to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, which they can access by helicopter, instead. He said the loss of those people would mean the loss of “very important working class jobs” in retail and property maintenance.

Dowling College aviation student Justin Ricks said he believes the proposed regulations are “arbitrary and capricious” and show a “lack of forethought and lack of understanding of aviation.”

He added that he believes the restrictions will lead pilots to land at the private Montauk Airport, which is beyond the control of East Hampton Town.

Former East Hampton teacher Patricia Hope said she hopes the regulations are passed.

“No one has paid me to speak,” she said. “You five people have the best interests of the community at heart and on the table in front of you. You’re ethical people. You’re our people. And I ask you to hold fast.”

Susan McGraw Keber, who sits on the executive committee of the Quiet Skies Coalition, says her personal opinion is that supporters of the airport are “no different than climate change deniers.”

Ms. McGraw Keber estimated that less than 1 percent of visitors to East Hampton arrive by helicopter.

“If the only thing they care about about East Hampton is that they can get here by helicopter, let them go,” she said.

Patricia Currie agreed.

“Are we supposed to believe the whole reason they come to East Hampton is because a helicopter is what brought them? That is not a reasonable assumption,” she said. “We need helicopters like Shelter Island needs a bridge and Montauk needs high speed ferry access to casinos.”

David Gruber, who serves as chairman of the airport noise subcommittee, said he believes increases in landing fees proposed to make up for the lost revenue due to the restrictions will be minimal.

“Landing fees have been kept artificially low by the FAA,” he said. “The increase would be the cost of three minutes of flight time for a small aircraft. It is a trivial amount.”

Mr. Gruber added that a group called “Friends of the East Hampton Airport” is comprised of helicopter pilots whose aircraft come from New Jersey.

“These are not our friends. They are self-serving operators from far away who want to continue to pollute our environment,” he said.”

Andy Sabin disagreed.

He pointed out that many people who use the airport pay a “huge chunk” of East Hampton’s property taxes.

“These rules are unreasonable,” he said. “We are now headed down a dangerous path. You’ve put aside $3 million for litigation. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ll need. Wouldnt this money be better spent supporting charities in town?”

Mr. Sabin added that Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the board liaison to the airport who helped shepherd the laws to the table, served as David Gruber’s campaign advisor when he served on the town board, and Mr. Gruber was a “major contributor” to Ms. Burke-Gonzalez’s campaign.

“David Gruber, you do not run the Town of East Hampton,” he said.

His son, Jonathan Sabin, a pilot, said that many people who currently take helicopters to East Hampton also have yachts, and they’d have no problem just landing their helicopters on helipads on their yachts in the bay.

“Declaring that most users of the airport are of no social value is not a useful start to negotiations,” he said. “It’s dangerous to enrage that demographic.”

Pilot Bruno Shreck said most of the complaints filed against the airport were from the same couple hundred people.

“On Shelter Island, seven neighbors got together and spent all their time on the telephone,” he said.

Pilot Irving Paler read off the names of several of the top callers, including Gene Polito, who made 1,822 complaints and Tom Gugliani, who made 894 calls, leading to outcry from the audience that he was engaging in personal attacks.

“Where does one find time to make these calls?” he asked.

Paul Keber, husband of Ms. McGraw Keber, explained how people can make all those calls:

“I’m sitting with my beautiful wife on the beautiful deck of my beautiful home,” he said, adding that every time he turns to his wife to talk to her, they’re interrupted by another low flying helicopter that is so loud that it makes it impossible for them to talk to one another. He said this sometimes goes on and on, every five minutes.

“We are very proud to be called ‘these people,'” he said.

John Kirrane said he resents being called a red dot on a map.

“People are not going to accept that noise is something we have to live with,” he said. “It’s an example of the arrogance and ignorance of the people who have cast this blight upon us. If you do not impose these restrictions in short order, we will get nowhere. The FAA is not going to support you on this. You’re on your own.”

Barry Holden said there are 50 to 60 flights per day over his house.

“I believe that is about 6,000 complaints I should have made, but I have to sleep sometimes,” he said.

Cindy Herbst of Sound Aircraft Services, which has provided aviation services at the airport for 25 years, said 85 percent of her business is done in the summer, and 75 percent of that business is done Thursdays through Mondays, when most of the restrictions would be in effect. Near tears, she said she doubts her company will survive one trial season of the new restrictions.

Bob Malafronte of Sag Harbor said that two “fixed based operators,” who provide services at the airport, made $1.35 million in profit last year, mostly from selling aviation fuel.

The town doubled its surcharge on aviation fuel from 15 cents to 30 cents last year, but Mr. Malafronte said the town’s cut should now be about $1 per gallon, if it hadn’t been kept artificially low for years.

“We are running a giant, noisy, polluting gas station. The peace and quiet of our homes is being peddled for their profit,” he said. “These are crocodile tears and they are certainly not being shed over the economy of East Hampton.”

Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson said he hopes the board prepares a “diversion study” they promised in order to gauge the potential impact on other nearby airports.

“If you squeeze the balloon in one spot, it’s going to bulge out in another,” he said.

Richard Kahn of Montauk said there were 385 helicopter landings in Montauk last year, a 44.7 percent increase over 2013, while there were 4,198 helicopter landings in East Hampton in 2014, a 46.6 percent increase.

“I have great sympathy for the people of East Hampton who have to live under helicopters, but the solution is not to transfer that noise out to Montauk,” he said.

Helicopter pilot Keith Vitolo, who flies a small helicopter primarily out of Montauk, said his four-seater helicopter produces 81 decibels of noise at 500 feet, which is quieter than a lawn mower at that distance.

He added that he comes in to land at 3,500 feet and leaves at 3,000 feet, much higher than most other helicopters.

“That’s incredibly high for a piston helicopter,” he said. “Last year we did one percent of the takeoffs and landings in East Hampton and 20 percent of the takeoffs and landings in Montauk. It’s me you’re putting out of business. I’d like to keep my job, keep my career. I am for keeping your community quiet. If there’s anything I can do, I’m all ears

East Hampton Republican Committee Vice Chairman Reginald Cornelia said he believes there is existing technology that can make helicopters more quiet.

“When jet skis first came out, everybody hated them, but now they’re quiet,” he said. “A helicopter was used to sneak up on Osama bin Ladin. That technology’s out there.”

Attorney and pilot Elliot Meisel said he believes the FAA does not have the authority to overlook East Hampton’s attempt to place restrictions on its air traffic.

“It’s a congressionally mandated obligation,” he said. “These regulations are illegal and will not be enforceable.”

Ann Mittendorf compared the sound of helicopters to “having a marching band go around your house 20 time and leave.”

“It happens in the summer every five minutes,” she said.

Ms. Mittendorf said she first noticed the helicopters while she was being treated intravenously for Lyme Disease in the summer of 2013, just after the North Shore route was established by the FAA. Suddenly, she said, 100 aircraft were flying over her house every day.

“My nurse was telling me I needed peace and quiet to recover,” she said. “It’s had a huge impact on my health. I had to retire. I could not recover.”

The board held open the public hearing for written comment until March 20.





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

One thought on “Proposed East Hampton Airport Regulations Come Under Fire

  1. Has there ever been a more appropriate issue for a referendum?

    Let this be decided directly by local east-end voters, & we’ll find out whether the majority are more concerned about the noise nuisance or potential economic impact.

    Part-timers (many or most of whom vote elsewhere) will be heard in proportion to their numbers, not their wealth.

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