East Hampton Town received 475 complaints from residents underneath the approach to the East Hampton Town Airport over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, up from 248 complaints the same weekend last year, according to Airport Manager Jim Brundige, who presented the statistics to the East Hampton Town Board at their work session Tuesday.
The airport saw a 20 percent increase in traffic over the same weekend last year, though Mr. Brundige said that may have been because the weather was much better this year than last.
Mr. Brundige reported that 872 flights arrived or departed from the airport over the course of the weekend, 341 of which were helicopter flights.
Those flights travel over three distinct routes that were laid out to the town board back in May.
He said fifty percent of the helicopters arrived over the November northern route from Jessups Neck to the electric transmission lines through the Long Pond Greenbelt near the airport, while the other 50 percent came in on the Sierra southern route over Georgica Pond.
On departing the airport, 15 percent of the helicopters used the Echo northeastern route over Shelter Island, while 85 percent took the southern route over Georgica Pond.
But complaints were centered around traffic over the northern route. of the complaints logged over the holiday weekend, 52 percent were due to helicopters flying the northern route, 29 percent were due to helicopters flying the eastern route and just 19 percent came from the southern route.
Mr. Brundige said his office heard complaints from 83 distinct households this Memorial Day weekend, up from 39 households the same weekend last year.
He added that the airport had to make a change in the approach for arrivals on the southern route, pushing them further east and lower before they arrived at the airport, due to a hazardous condition that route created at the airport.
He said air traffic controllers in the airport’s control tower had been losing sight of those helicopters for about 15 seconds as they spiraled down above the roof of the control tower.
“It was difficult to see the helicopters. It was not safe,” he said.
Mr. Brundige said the most complaints came from eastern Sag Harbor Village, but about 80 percent of those calls came from “one gentleman who won’t be named.”
Mr. Brundige estimated that air traffic this Memorial Day weekend was 20 percent more than the same weekend last year.
“The weather in the same period last year was very bad,” he said. “I’m only guessing it was weather related. We had the same helicopters coming and going as we’ve had in the past few years.”
Kathy Cunningham of the Quiet Skies Coalition urged the town board to pay attention to Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Tim Bishop’s current push to extend the FAA’s mandatory North Shore helicopter flight path, which is expected to expire Aug. 6.
The federal lawmakers also want to push helicopters on that route to round Orient Point before making their final approach to the airport. The helicopters currently begin their approach over the North Fork, where many of the complaints about the East Hampton Airport originate.
“The sunsetting [of the FAA rule] is something we should be paying attention to. It will change traffic patterns,” she said, adding that residents of Southold, who receive no benefit from the airport, are having a “real hard time” with helicopter noise.
“It’s a legitimate beef,” she said, but cautioned that the extension of the flight path over Orient Point could push helicopter traffic over areas of East Hampton that hadn’t historically had a problem with helicopter noise.
“The board needs to be aware this can fracture into regional discord,” she said. “Nobody in Amagansett or Springs is going to want that traffic coming in over them.”
“We’re pleased that our federal elected officials are paying attention to this issue,” she added.
Mr. Brundige also asked the board to raise landing fees by 10 percent, which would increase the airport’s revenue by $100,000 per year, and to double fueling fees from 15 cents per gallon to 30 cents per gallon.
“It’s expensive to keep up with the fuel farm. It definitely needs to be increased,” said Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who is the board’s liaison to the airport.