East Hampton Town’s big experiment with an airport control tower began this week as the operators flipped the switches on their communication equipment and radar for the first time. Though the tower is billed as a way to control the routes by which aircraft enter and leave a 4.8-mile radius around the Wainscott runways, and thereby limit noise annoyances for residents, we have our doubts. Bets are that it will not make the noise problem any less, though it may move it around a little bit.
Helicopters, which prompt many of the complaints to the town’s hotline, are just plain loud, wherever they fly. Jets’ takeoffs and landings are going to rattle windows and nerves no matter what. And, seasonally staffed tower or none, the only way to reduce the aggravation of many residents is to limit the hours that certain kinds of aircraft can use the facility.
Such restrictions are anathema, of course, to those who make money from transporting high-paying passengers or provide refueling, cleaning, or other services for private jets. Some owners of small aircraft based at East Hampton Airport have been swept up in the opinion vortex, paradoxically siding with the for-profit operators, putting them to some degree at odds with their own best interests as their once-quaint home field becomes ever more commercial.
By improving safety, the tower, which is being paid for with money from the town budget, may have the unintended consequence of actually increasing use of the airport at night and in bad weather. No one yet knows for sure. This is indeed an experiment worth watching closely.