‘Regional’ or ‘Local’?

    The Federal Aviation Administration’s designation of East Hampton Airport as a “regional” airport in a May 2012 report classifying airports across the nation has raised concerns on the part of East Hampton’s Quiet Skies Coalition and touched off a new volley between that group and the East Hampton Aviation Association.
    In a press release, Kathleen Cunningham, the Quiet Skies Coalition president, said that the classification “clearly demonstrates the F.A.A.’s aggressive expansionist view of the East Hampton Airport.”
    The new designation, she said, could impose requirements that would push the town to accept new federal funding for the airport, a move that the organization believes would prevent the town from enacting meaningful restrictions to limit airport noise by obligating the town to new grant assurances, or agreements with the F.A.A.
    Asked to comment on the designation at a town board meeting on Tuesday, Jim Brundige, the airport manager, said that the “regional” title “has no effect on this airport.” He reported that Peter Kirsch, the town’s aviation attorney, had agreed, telling him that at this time it has “absolutely no legal, regulatory, funding, or other significant” impact.
    The F.A.A.’s report, “General Aviation Airports: A National Asset,” and its assessment of 2,950 airports for classification as either “national,” “regional,” “local,” or “basic” airports was done to assist the agency in decisions on distributing federal Airport Improvement Plan funds, Mr. Brundige said.
    The F.A.A. describes a “regional” airport as being in a metropolitan or “micropolitian” area and having high levels of activity, including some international travel, and with an average of about 90 aircraft based at the field, including at least three jets.
    “These are hardly appropriate descriptions of our airport or our community,” Ms. Cunningham said of some of the descriptors. She said she was “shocked” that federal officials see “our local airport . . . as regional.”
    Although it is yet to be determined exactly how the new categories could affect F.A.A. requirements for individual airports, in terms of facilities, funding, or grant assurances, the Quiet Skies Coalition pointed out in its press release that the May 2012 report will underpin the issuance of F.A.A. “airport operating certificates” which require adherence to safety standards that address such things as pavement condition, lighting, signs, and rescue equipment.
    “The obvious implication of all of this is that safety standards for a regional airport will be stiffer and more expensive to comply with than for a local or basic airport,” according to the press release.
    Added expenses to comply with new standards, Ms. Cunningham asserted, “will feed Mr. Stanzione’s argument for the need to take F.A.A. funding and 20 more years of restrictive grant assurances,” she said, referring to the town councilman who serves as airport liaison.
    The position of the Quiet Skies Coalition, and others advocating noise-abatement actions, is that the limits on what regulations the town can impose on the airport, under the agreements with the F.A.A., will prevent the imposition of effective noise control measures.
    The new designation, Ms. Cunningham said in the press release, “belies the claims of airport interests that they do not seek expansion of the airport and the ever-increasing noise it will inflict on East End residents.”
    She said that “by conspiring to seek and create a need for F.A.A. funding, they plan to hamstring the town” with new agreements with the F.A.A. tied to the funding “that will guarantee endless expansion and block any effective noise mitigation.”
    The new designation, she charged, is consistent with the recent establishment of the airport control tower and efforts to make it permanent. She questioned “what part this new development played in Stanzione’s oft-mentioned ‘dialogue with the F.A.A.’ ”
    In his own press release, Gerard Boleis, the president of the East Hampton Aviation Association, said that “once again the airport opponents are trying to mislead and scare the public with distorted reports about the airport.”
    “It is utterly untrue to say the airport is expanding,” he said. “Just the opposite.” Under the adopted airport master plan, he pointed out, one runway will be eliminated, another is being made shorter and narrower, and “the third will remain in exactly the same configuration it has been since it was built in 1936.”
    Mr. Boleis also said that “for decades, pilots have been flying throughout the region since the airport was built. Upstate New York and New England are favorite regional destinations.”