Plane Route Is Up for Discussion

East Hampton Airport could be the next town asset to be privatized

    As citizens groups in Southampton Town continue to mobilize protests about the rerouting of the majority of helicopters using East Hampton Airport onto a path primarily over their town, the East Hampton Town Board is also grappling with airport decision-making. Several members repeated suggestions this week that, if town officials are not in control of airport matters, the town should abandon its ownership and privatize the facility.
    Limits to the town’s ability to regulate the airport, because of Federal Aviation Administration oversight, have long been at the center of a debate about whether the town should spurn federal airport money in order to gain more control over airport use and noise control, or if that could be achieved by pursuing an application to the F.A.A.
    In board discussions on Aug. 14 and on Tuesday, both Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley suggested that the town should divest itself of the airport.
    Both have been critical of Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who as liaison to the airport was the only board member involved in recent discussions that led to the use of helicopter flight paths over the high-voltage electrical transmission lines near East Hampton Airport, taking them primarily over East Hampton Town’s western neighbor, to and from an F.A.A.-approved east-west flight path along Long Island’s north shore.
    The discussions involved town-hired air traffic controllers, working from a control tower just put into use this season, as well as airport users, Mr. Stanzione said.
    “I’ll just restate that the route change was a return to a prior, existing route,” he said. The route was changed in 2005, after a near miss in the air, with planes routed over the Northwest section of East Hampton instead. Activists complaining of the route change reported another near miss late last week, but that incident is unsubstantiated.
    Mr. Stanzione said the decision was based on the traffic controllers’ “professional air traffic management” and assessment of safety, with a route over fewer houses the goal.
    But Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley said the controllers were taking direction from Mr. Stanzione, and that the routing decision should have been made by the entire town board.
    “It’s not a political decision, to spread pain or make judgments about whose house was going to get flown over and whose wasn’t,” Mr. Stanzione said Tuesday, expressing concern about politicizing the decision. “I’m much more comfortable with the professional standards approach.”
    However, he said, “I should have come to the board.”
    Board members wrangled over how much authority is held by the traffic controllers and how much by the town. “Did we give them the authority to choose the route?” Councilwoman Theresa Quigley asked.
    “Wouldn’t that be their core competency?” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said. The town’s contract with Robinson Aviation, the company providing the air traffic controllers, gives them the ability to direct traffic within the controlled airspace — a 4.8-mile radius from the airport — John Jilnicki, the town attorney, said, but it “doesn’t speak to how they do that.”
    “We don’t have authority over how they perform their federal function,” he said of the F.A.A.-sanctioned controllers.
    “I personally think that if we don’t have any control over the flight paths, then we shouldn’t be the owners. Why don’t we privatize it?” Ms. Quigley asked. For town officials to leave the selection of flight paths to air traffic controllers, she said, is an “abdication of my responsibility” to respond to constituents’ concerns.
    She asked Mr. Jilnicki if the town could be held liable should an accident occur with aircraft using the selected route.
    “I don’t believe so,” Mr. Jilnicki replied, “because we don’t direct traffic in the air.” Under federal law, he said, “we have no right to direct traffic.”
    But, Mr. Jilnicki said, if a litigant took the position that an accident was related to a route dictated by the town, it could be asserted that the town was responsible.
    Mr. Wilkinson said the air traffic controllers “say without a doubt that they were told what route” to send aircraft on. “Given that, does the town have an exposure?” he asked.
    “We could,” Mr. Jilnicki replied.
    “And I’m saying, if we don’t control, and we have an exposure, we should sell this thing,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
    “That’s a good reason for us to not be involved, right there,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. He said last week that if town officials want more control, perhaps they should eschew new F.A.A. grants and allow existing agreements with the agency regarding airport rules to expire. “It’s pretty clear that we don’t control the airport under F.A.A. grants,” he said later in the meeting on Tuesday.
    “I don’t believe that’s true,” Ms. Quigley said.
    “Well, what you believe and what is may not be the same,” Mr. Van Scoyoc replied.
    Ms. Quigley sponsored recent resolutions approved by the board to begin the process of compiling noise data that could be used to make a case to the F.A.A. for more local control, even under grant-related agreements.
    At the airport on Sunday, members of the Quiet Skies Coalition held a rally to protest the new helicopter route. A number of the 50 or so protestors were residents of Southampton Town.
    Representative Tim Bishop is expected to attend a meeting tonight to discuss helicopter noise at the Bridgehampton Community Center on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. A newly formed group has an online petition at signon.org/sign/helicopter-noise-problem calling for a stop to flights over Noyac, North Sea, Bridgehampton, and Sag Harbor until a joint two-town task force can develop remedies, and the environmental impacts of airport noise and pollution can be studied. As of yesterday, it had 276 signatures.
    According to July data on noise complaints to the town’s hotline at 537-LOUD, as well as those made online or otherwise, 1,498 complaints were made by 114 different households outside East Hampton Town, with the majority from Sag Harbor. Forty-eight households in East Hampton generated 445 complaints about noise in July. Jet noise prompted 186, or 42 percent, of those complaints. Helicopter noise accounted for 33 percent, or 145 complaints, and complaints about propeller planes accounted for 101 complaints, or 23 percent.
 


Comments

Great.. we sell the airport... and have NO CONTROL.... what a brilliant idea....
Precisely my thought...the sale of the airport would serve to invite total loss of control and worsen the already unbearable situation many suffer from the North Fork to Shelter Island to the South Fork. It is not an acceptable idea.
I just observed (aug 24 8.33 am) another near miss (less than 100 feet apart) over my house in Riverhead - one going east the other west. It's quite ludicrous that people are commuting by helicopter at all, but if they must, it should be by the route that affects the least number of people: over Georgica Pond and then straight into the airport.
Agree~! But those south of the highway are the very people who are using the helicopters,jets,seaplanes, winged aircraft...they do NOT want the traffic over their houses...I believe they should bear the noise of their convenient travel methods.
"Mr. Van Scoyoc said. He said last week that if town officials want more control, perhaps they should eschew new F.A.A. grants and allow existing agreements with the agency regarding airport rules to expire. “It’s pretty clear that we don’t control the airport under F.A.A. grants,” he said later in the meeting on Tuesday. “I don’t believe that’s true,” Ms. Quigley said. “Well, what you believe and what is may not be the same,” Mr. Van Scoyoc replied. The Town of East Hampton has hired aviation counsel who finally admitted the Town will not have control if we accept FAA funding. It is standard knowledge the FAA serves to approve or disapprove of flight patterns and is in the business of encouraging air travel. It is NOT in the business of noise pollution by aircraft or helping to mitigate noise. Former Town Councilman Pat Trunzo can direct you to case law from NYC as did attorney Jeffrey Bragman in his oral presentation during public town hearings earlier this year. As long as the town is under grant assurances from the FAA, the Town must consider those restrictions and does not fully control the airport. Grant assurances with the FAA will expire December 31, 2013. If the town board elects to pursue FAA funding, we will be tied to the FAA for TWENTY YEARS. This information is common knowledge at this juncture. Ms. Quigley should know this by now.
Who signed the three year agreement with Robinson Aviation? Why hasn't the anyone on the Town Board read the contract? Even Mr. Jilnicki, the town attorney, said he has not seen it nor read it. Very peculiar and unorthodox.
To insure air traffic noise complaints are received, send them via email to HTO@PlaneNoise.com AND quietskies@optimum.net. The hotline is often busy and requires more than one call for each aircraft that is being reported. Quiet Skies Coalition is monitoring the air traffic and welcomes membership and correspondence. For more information about current news: www.quietskiescoalition.org *PlaneNoise is owned and operated by Robert Grotell who is special advisor to ERHC...Eastern Region Helicopter Council. PlaneNoise is a company that collects air traffic complaint data and provides it to the town. According to Mr. Grotell, sending an email with a LIST of aircraft, including the date, time, and if possible, type of aircraft and color is best. Mr. Grotell assured me each aircraft is accounted for on the list sent. There had been confusion as to whether one list would count for one aircraft. The answer is no...each listed is counted.
"...if town officials want more control, perhaps they should eschew new F.A.A. grants and allow existing agreements with the agency regarding airport rules to expire. “It’s pretty clear that we don’t control the airport under F.A.A. grants,” he said later in the meeting on Tuesday. “I don’t believe that’s true,” Ms. Quigley said. “Well, what you believe and what is may not be the same,” Mr. Van Scoyoc replied." Hired by the town board to educate them about the FAA regulations and restrictions, the Town Board seems woefully unwilling to acknowledge that grant assurances currently in place through December 31, 2014 prohibit the town from implementing various restrictions and curfews which the town as OWNER of the airport, could do if it does not commit to accepting funds from the FAA. The commitment to do so means twenty years more of FAA grant assurances and the town would have to comply with those. The town board by now should know these facts. Why don't they? Their own attorney admitted as much and the lawsuit by the Wainscott residents provided NY State case law to prove all this. It is there for the public and our Town Board to read. Why are they still feigning confusion? Or are they biding their time? Ms. Quigley seems particularly misinformed and that is of concern. An attorney, she is capable of knowing fact from fiction. The sale of our airport would create more problems and air traffic would come under the FAA...the government agency that wants to increase air traffic. The FAA is in the business of flying. Noise pollution and the quality of life for our residents is NOT of concern to them. The southern shore route is the best choice. Least amount of noise for all and a direct path over Georgica and into the airport. Like the North Shore route that was newly mandated by the FAA and approved, this is the answer to the community at large who suffer the constant siege of helicopters, seaplanes, jets, and all winged aircraft. Let those who use the airport take the southern route...that is after all, where they reside.
hto@planenoise.com quietskiescoalition.org Email your aircraft complaints to these addresses. Both will record each aircraft listed in one submission.
Why do helicopters need to use the airport at all? Isn't it time some thought was put into designing from scatch a helipad on a more desirable location? Ideally located on state or local land right on or close to the south or north shore somewhere east of the canal. My gentle suggestion would be to tax the heck out of helicopter companies who use it and specifically earmark the money for land conservation around the helipad to at least mitigate the impact. In terms of plane traffic, how about a referendum on the question of "do East Hampton residents even want an airport" clearly the thing has grown well beyond original conception....just saying.
For the people who want all the helicopters arriving and departing the HTO airport flying on the same routes at the same altitudes, going both directions (east and west), I have a serious question to ask you. What makes more noise? Is it helicopters fanning out in multiple directions on departure, and arriving from multiple directions coming in to land (annoying more people, but less often)? Or, is it helicopters flying the same route, every time, climbing and descending into each other until two of them make a REALLY big noise and "land" in your backyard? I know what you're going to say....."That's what the tower is for." Well, you're right, BUT for the fact that they'd be entering and exiting the tower's airspace about 5 miles out. Controllers in Class D towers won't always see (and probably rarely do) helicopters 5 miles away, because all they have at their disposal is a set of binoculars and a pair of Mark I Eyeballs. Plus they have MANY more things that demand their attention in their traffic pattern and on the runways and taxiways, not to mention reading flight plan clearances, coordinating with the TRACON via commercial and sometimes cell phone (because the land line STILL does not work), etc. That's just referring to the area inside and bordering the Class D. Outside the Class D.....well, now it gets REALLY interesting. Many helicopter pilots choose to talk to the approach (radar) controllers to get VFR traffic advisories, but usually can't until they're at least a mile or two outside the class D. However, they are not required to do this (and can't be forced to). Even if they are getting advisories, there is still a gap of several miles between where they were terminated by the approach controllers and where they enter the tower's Class D. So now you have several helicopters climbing to a certain altitude out of the airport along a "mandated" route, with several other helicopters descending from that SAME altitude along that same "mandated" route, and neither one of them is talking to any controllers (the departures haven't yet called NY Approach, and the arrivals were just turned loose and haven't yet called the tower). Now they're headed directly at each other, same flight path, same altitudes, without talking to any controllers. Even to someone with no aviation knowledge, that doesn't sound like a good idea. So, when you add in a late afternoon setting sun in the pilot's eyes with some haze (a daily occurence), well now you're setting these aircraft up for a disaster. Also, forcing helicopters to fly miles offshore over water can be just as dangerous. An airplane with an engine failure (and a little bit of altitude) can glide for a few miles and attempt to find a place to put it down. A helicopter with an engine failure glides like a brick (and will sink like one too without emergency floats). If they are forced to autorotate, they have a much better chance of a safe landing on soil. Having your cocktail hours, barbeques, and tea party guests disturbed by aircraft noise when you live by an airport means nothing next to the safety of the pilots, passengers, and yes, the people on the ground. Aircraft fly all over Long Island, you're not the only town that hears it. The only way you'll get anything near "quiet skies" is to either close the airport, or move someplace else. You had better move off Long Island though, because there isn't a single square foot of it that doesn't get a noticeable volume of air traffic overhead. I live on the north shore of Suffolk County myself, they all go over my house too. Sometimes I'll even wave (occasionally I'll get a flashed landing light in return.) At any rate, that's the price we all pay for living near New York City. Noise can NEVER be a priority over safety. I know this will never really sink in for some people, but I thought I'd at least try to add some common sense into the debate here. I'm not rich, I'm not a helicopter pilot or passenger, and I don't live by the airport. However, I do work in the aviation field (I won't specify), and would be horrified (but far from surprised) if exaggerated complaints and knee-jerk politics led to a terrible tragedy.