You have to wonder why the owners of small private planes want so badly for East Hampton Town to seek Federal Aviation Administration money for a deer fence. At a hearing last Thursday, pilot after pilot came to the Town Hall microphone to support the Republican board majority’s plan to pursue funding from the F.A.A. But why? Really, why?
The possible answer may lie not in a concern for the town’s finances — there is plenty of money for the fence in a dedicated airport surplus fund. It may instead be because many pilots genuinely believe that without F.A.A. oversight, there is a risk that the airport would be shut down. Indeed, the head of a pilots association has pointed out that the leaders of several anti-airport noise groups have not said they would not seek the closing of the facility altogether. Taking money from the F.A.A. helps head off that possibility even though there is no credible movement apparent to see the airport boarded up.
As David Frum, a former George H.W. Bush speechwriter, wrote recently in New York magazine, there are wealthy and influential figures on the right who actually, and in all honesty, think Barack Obama’s presidency represents some sort of an apocalypse. Similarly, reasonable pilots from East Hampton and Southampton really do think that airport-noise opponents could some day force the whole place to be turned into condos, or lord knows what. Both views are powerful, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.
So if there is no chance that East Hampton Airport will be closed, who then would be affected if the town succeeds in gaining some degree of local control? The current sweetheart deal of low airport fees could persist or be changed regardless of F.A.A. funding. Limiting helicopters in some way would not appear to harm the private pilots who filled Town Hall last week. Nor would a ban on late-night or pre-dawn takeoffs and landings by loud jets put a damper on the owners of recreational aircraft. No, something else is afoot here, though exactly what that may be is not immediately clear.