The Federal Aviation Administration is pushing back against East Hampton Town’s plan to deactivate its municipal airport at the end of February and reopen in early March as a “private use” airport, stating that the process will likely take longer than the town envisions.
FAA Regional Administrator Marie T. Kennington-Gardiner outlined the FAA’s concerns about the speed with which the town is proceeding in a scathing Feb. 2 letter, which has been posted on the town’s website.
The letter cautions that, when the FAA processes the request to deactivate the airport, all public instrument procedures will be unavailable, the town’s agreement with the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), all FAA-operated navigational, weather, and communication aids will be disabled; and Class D airspace will no longer be applicable.
According to Ms. Kennington-Gardiner’s letter, during a Jan. 25 meeting between the FAA and the town, “we emphasized that the deactivation of the airport has genuine consequences. Once an airport is deactivated, it cannot be reopened with the same facilities and procedures simply by reactivating it. While this may not be intuitively obvious, we explained our regulatory structure and need to maintain safety protocols; and how this impacts the ability to reopen quickly.”
“Once the airport is deactivated, it could not immediately return to its prior operating
status,” she added. “While FAA will endeavor to expedite its processes, you should be aware that, it may take approximately two years to restore the current capability to the airport if it is deactivated depending on any potential environmental analyses.”
The town board voted unanimously Jan. 20 to deactivate the airport on Feb. 28 and reopen it on March 4, a process that the town believes will give it greater control over the types of aircraft that can land there.
The town plans to adopt a new framework for airport use, based on permissions tied to aircraft type or size, time of day, noise level, type of operator, and environmental considerations, before the 2022 summer season.
“After business hours on February 2, 2022, the FAA sent a letter to the town regarding obstacles it foresees with its internal processes regarding activation of the new private use airport,” said Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc in a Feb. 3 statement. “In the letter, the FAA suggests that the East Hampton Airport may not be operating in a safe manner such that opening of the new airport may be delayed. The town has relied on FAA oversight of the East Hampton Airport—as it was required to do—for decades. There has never been a suggestion from the FAA that the East Hampton Airport is unsafe; that the surrounding airspace is unsafe; that the instrument procedures are unsafe; or that the town’s privately contracted air traffic control tower is unsafe. Just the opposite is true. As an example, as recently as December 2021 the FAA reviewed the airspace at the East Hampton Airport and upgraded it when the Tower is not in operation from Class G to Class E airspace. At no point during that process did the FAA suggest that the East Hampton Airport or its airspace is unsafe. Similarly, the instrument procedures are routinely updated by the FAA, including as recently as February 2019.”
“It is noteworthy that the FAA never once in its letter states that the new private use airport will not be available on March 4,” he added. “The town remains confident that it will open on that date and looks forward to ushering in the new chapter of aviation in East Hampton that is consistent with the concerns that have been raised by so many in the community. The town believes that all of the issues raised by the FAA can be reasonably and promptly addressed by the FAA by March 4. The town sees no reason that this cannot be achieved and has no plans to change course at this time.”
Eastern Region Helicopter Council spokesman Loren Riegelhaupt disagreed with the town supervisor.
“The FAA letter finally clarifies the true reality of closing the East Hampton airport and just some of the damaging unintended consequences,” said Mr. Riegelhaupt in a statement. “We again urge the Town Board to work with the aviation community to keep the airport open and find alternative solutions. Our door remains open and, as always, we are willing and eager to work with the town to finally resolve these issues and avoid the added burden to our roads, infrastructure and taxpayer funds.”