After East Hampton Town’s attempt to regulate aircraft that can enter its municipal-owned airport failed to be upheld in court last year, the town is now left with just one more option to try to curb noisy air traffic.
It’s an option that has only been tried seven times since it became available in 1990, and it has only been successful once.
Four airport owners have abandoned this option after deeming it too costly and time consuming, while two attempts have failed — one after 9 years and $3 million were spent, and another where 10 years and $7 million were spent by airport operators.
But the Federal Aviation Administration told East Hampton representatives in a meeting this summer that their airport may be one of the few that is in a good position to get an approved Part 161 Study under the 1990 Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA), which will allow them to set very specific regulations to control noisy aircraft, says East Hampton Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the town board’s liaison to the airport.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez and the town’s aviation attorneys and consultants held a day-long session of meetings with airport stakeholders and the press on Monday, Sept. 18, in advance of a presentation of the town’s ANCA options at the town board’s Sept. 19 work session.
“HTO is in a unique circumstance, where you don’t have large commercial carriers,” said Bill O’Connor of the town’s aviation counsel, Morrison Foerster, referring to the airport’s code letters. He added that the town also has data and studies from the time before, during and after its restrictions were in place last year before being shot down by a federal appeals court because they were not enacted through the formal ANCA process.
Mr. O’Connor added that a federal judge “had deemed the curfews reasonable,” and the appeals court decision hadn’t refuted that position, it had stated instead that the town did not follow the correct process to enact those restrictions.
The two airports that were denied ANCA noise restrictions were Los Angeles International Airport and Hollywood Burbank Airport, both of which are significantly larger than East Hampton’s airport.
“The FAA pointed out that we’re smaller than LAX and Burbank,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez.
The one successful application, made by the Naples Municipal Airport in Naples, Fla., was a ban on Stage 2 aircraft weighing less than 75,000 pounds. The FAA later ruled that the restriction violated federal grant assurances, leading to lengthy litigation, according to Mr. O’Connor’s presentation.
Mr. O’Connor explained that, for the purposes of ANCA, aircraft are divided into stages based on how loud they are, with Stage 1 being the loudest aircraft. All jets must now meet noise standards of Stage 3 and 4 aircraft, while most helicopters are Stage 2, with Stage 3 helicopters now being certified as of 2014. Helicopter companies can make modification to their helicopters so they can be re-certified at a higher stage rating.
He said 42.1 percent of helicopter flights using the East Hampton Airport are Stage 2 helicopters, while 56.8 percent are Stage 3. Since aircraft can later be re-certified at a higher stage rating, he recommended the town look into creating restrictions for both Stage 2 and 3 helicopters.
The Part 161 Study, which Mr. O’Connor said the town could complete by late 2018, requires that six conditions be met, including that the restrictions be reasonable and nondiscriminatory, that they not cause an unreasonable burden on interstate or foreign commerce, that they not conflict with U.S. law, that adequate time is provided for public comment, and that they do not place an unreasonable burden on the national aviation system.
As far as what type of restrictions the town might try to impose, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said “We’re not there yet” but she expects the process of creating them will be a transparent one.
“All stakeholders will have a seat at the table,” she said. “We’re going to take out a clean sheet of paper.”
“All reasonable options are on the table,” added Mr. O’Connor. “We talked to a lot of people today and we heard a lot of good ideas.”
If the town were to decide this month to go forward with the restrictions, he said, a consultant would likely be selected by December of this year, followed by creation of the restrictions by March of 2018, with the study complete by August 2018. Afterward, the town would be required to allow 45 days for public comment before revising their application and submitting it to the FAA in November of 2018. Once the FAA deems the application complete, a process that can be time-consuming in and of itself, it has up to 180 days to decide whether to approve the restrictions.
The whole process, without any resubmissions due to an incomplete application, would cost $1.5 to $2 million, and would take two to three years, said Mr. O’Connor
“That would increase with each round of comments and revisions,” he said. “It’s a fairly aggressive schedule, but we think it’s doable.”
Mary Ellen Eagan of consultant HMMH also provided the press with an update on noise complaints due to operations at the airport through July of this year.
The town’s noise complaint data was complicated in mid-2016 by the introduction of a new online noise reporting system, AirNoiseReport, put together by aviation noise activists based in Queens. Members of the public have taken to this reporting system, which is easier to navigate that the town’s PlaneNoise complaint system, but it does lead to some discrepancies in the data.
“Noise complaints increased by 63 percent relative to 2016,” over the first seven months of 2017, she said, with a 99 percent increase in complaints in the month of July.
Helicopters account for 60 percent of those complaints, up 5 percent from 2016, while complaints about planes (excluding seaplanes) dropped 5 percent to 25 percent.
Ms. Eagan added that the number of unique households reporting complaints appears to be declining, but that data has been difficult to synthesize because AirNoiseReport does not collect complainant’s location data when using their mapping tool.