A new Federal Aviation Administration rule going into effect in early May will be a “significant consideration” in East Hampton Town’s decision-making regarding the town airport and whether to continue taking F.A.A. money, Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the airport liaison, said in a press release this week.
The ruling will add a new “Stage 3” class of helicopters to the existing Stage 1 and Stage 2 categories, which are based on noise standards. Direct F.A.A. approval is not required for the town, as the airport owner, to restrict access by the noisier (Stages 1 and 2) helicopters. But restrictions on Stage 3 helicopters will not be allowed without F.A.A. approval at airports supported by federal grants, such as East Hampton’s.
Acceptance of federal airport grants comes with a set of obligatory “grant assurances,” standards which the town must follow in airport management. Pursuant to a lawsuit settlement, several obligations that accompanied acceptance of prior grants will expire at the end of this year.
That, airport noise advocates have said, will give the town more latitude in enacting restrictions designed to lessen the impact of aircraft noise. Aviation interests disagree, pointing out that overarching F.A.A. requirements will remain in place.
The town’s airport counsel, Peter Kirsch, has advised the town board that both things are true. However, in a memo last year he noted that the new helicopter classification could have a significant effect on the town’s ability to put its own airport-use rules in place.
In a memo this week to the East Hampton Aviation Association, which wants the town to accept F.A.A. money, David E. Schaffer, an aviation attorney engaged by the group, offered his opinion on the effect of the new rule. “F.A.A. approval will be required even if the East Hampton Airport is not receiving grants from the F.A.A.,” he said.
“With this new rule, the F.A.A. has now imposed an additional hurdle for grant-obligated airports,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez wrote in the release. “As the town considers whether to remain grant-obligated after Dec. 31, 2014, when grant assurances 22 (a) and (h) expire, the latest F.A.A. rule will be a significant consideration.”