East Hampton’s newly reopened airport will likely serve as a learning laboratory this summer to determine the effectiveness of numerous long-discussed limitations on aircraft use of the airport.
East Hampton Town is on track to deactivate its existing airport at 11:59 p.m. on May 17, 2022, reopening a new “private use” airport at 9 a.m. on May 19, 2022, the town announced in a March 23 press release, stating that the Federal Aviation Administration has recently issued a finding of “no objection with conditions” to the closing of the airport and a “no objection with conditions” to reopening of the airport after the agency conducted an airport airspace analysis of both actions.
The new airport, to be called the East Hampton Town Airport, will go by the new airport identifier “JPX” instead of its current identifier, East Hampton Airport, or “HTO.”
The FAA cautioned in its March 18 determination on the reopening, that the new airport will not be eligible for FAA-funded instrument flight procedures. The town is working with a consultant to prepare private instrument flight procedures, which it will make available to qualified pilots free of charge.
The town had planned earlier this year to close the airport on Feb. 28 and reopen it in early March, but agreed to delay these actions until May to align with the FAA’s charting cycles, allowing accurate information about the new airport to be included on FAA charts.
This new airport is expected to operate under what’s known as a “prior permission required” framework, or PPR.
The town’s consultants from Cooley Law recommended at a March 1, 2022 town board work session, that the town enact several restrictions for the 2022 season.
“This is about collecting real-time data about the airport, something we haven’t been able to do in the past,” said attorney Andrew Barr, who outlined the proposed restrictions. “The goal is to collect actual data instead of speculating or modeling like we have done in the past.”
He added that the town will also collect data on how the restrictions affect neighboring airports in Montauk and Westhampton Beach, as well as a helipad on Dune Road in Southampton.
The first recommended restriction would be a “time-based permission,” which Mr. Barr said was another word for a curfew.
He proposed that the airport be closed weekdays from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., and on weekends and holidays from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. These restrictions would affect 13 percent of current operations at the airport, but would address 38 percent of the complaints about the airport.
Mr. Barr said these were the “most-complained-about operations.”
The second restriction would be an operator-based permission, which would allow one daily roundtrip per commercial aircraft, which he described as primarily commuter flights, where “an individual is paying someone else to fly them to and from the airport,” which makes up the bulk of the jets, helicopters and seaplanes that use the airport.
This would eliminate 24 percent of current operations at the airport, but would address 35 percent of complaints.
“There are days the same aircraft has come six or seven times in one day,” said Mr. Barr. “On the busiest days of the year, the town would get the most relief with this type of permission.”
He said the airport can use its existing Vector system to track these flights and alert the airport operator to violators in real time.
He also recommended noise and size-based restrictions, not allowing flights by aircraft with a noise signature greater than 91.0 decibels or aircraft that exceed 50,000 pounds in maximum takeoff weight.
He was quick to point out that “general aviation operators,” such as owners of small personal planes based at the airport “would largely have blanket permission to operate during non-curfew hours, with very little difference from what they’re doing today.
He added that the rules will not apply to emergency aircraft such as Suffolk County Medevac helicopters or military aircraft.
The town is also looking into phasing out the sale and use of leaded fuel at the airport.
East Hampton Town is currently going over public comment on these proposals as part of its scoping document for the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the changes, as required under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
The final EIS, expected to be ready for additional public comment this fall, will include data gathered during this summer’s operations under this new framework, said Peter Feroe, a planning consultant from AKRF who is working on the EIS for the town.
“We’re doing this in order to get the best data available to make the most informed decision,” he said at the March 1 work session.
Not everyone is happy with these proposals.
“While their decision to delay the closing of the airport was a welcome gesture toward collaboration, the Town of East Hampton’s ill-advised airport restrictions will not solve any issues, but will instead only push the problems to neighboring communities like Montauk, Westhampton and the North Fork,” said Loren Riegelhaupt, spokesman for the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, after the proposed restrictions were outlined March 1. “What’s most troubling is that we do not have the assurance that these restrictions are legally permissible as the FAA still has not provided any clarity on the regulations. The FAA has a duty and responsibility to provide these answers and we urge the agency to immediately give clear guidance so that all parties can move forward and find commonsense solutions.”
The town also announced March 23 that it is working with a consultant, Flight Tech Engineering, to design and implement instrument flight procedures to be used for instrument landings at the new airport, which it expected to be submitted to the FAA by March 25.
These procedures will not be made publicly available, but operators can receive authorization from the FAA to use the procedures if they submit an application to the town’s airport manager by April 8, 2022. Here’s more info.
“The FAA, and not the town, will determine who can use the special procedures, based on whether the operator is qualified, and whether they have permission from the town,” according to the town. Questions may be directed to the airport manager, Jim Brundige, at 631.537.1130 ext. 5, or JBrundige@EHamptonny.gov.