Air traffic at East Hampton Airport during the Thursday-through-Monday period surrounding the Memorial Day holiday increased by 20 percent over the same period last year and generated numerous complaints.
Jim Brundige, the airport manager, told the East Hampton Town Board Tuesday that there were 872 takeoffs and landings over the long weekend and 475 complaints about noise and disturbance. During last year’s holiday period there were 248 complaints.
Helicopters, which accounted for 40 percent of the traffic, prompted 302 calls. They came from a total of 83 households, just over half of them in the vicinity of the takeoff and approach route from the north, over parts of Sag Harbor and Jessup’s Neck.
Mr. Brundige noted that 85 percent of the departing helicopters, and half of those heading to the airport, had flown over a southern route, along the Atlantic shore and over Georgica Pond.
After the experience of the busy weekend, he said, airport control tower operators, as well as representatives of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, an industry association, told him the southern route should be adjusted to avoid overlapping helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft traffic and potential safety issues.
On Friday, Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez attended a meeting at the airport at which new guidelines for the southern route were mapped out, which will take helicopters farther east before they descend toward the airport.
While the air traffic controllers have jurisdiction over traffic only within a 4.8-mile radius of the airport, the airport issues information to pilots regarding arrival and departure routes they are asked to follow in order to mitigate noise over residential areas. Compliance is monitored, and weekly reports are issued to the helicopter council.
Although the southern route saw the majority of the helicopter traffic over the Memorial Day period, residents there made the fewest complaints, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc noted.
The adjustment to the southern route will take copters over more residences than the original route. “The downside of this is, truthfully, more complaints,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell observed Tuesday.
“That was considered,” Mr. Brundige replied. However, he said, safety concerns prompted the adjustment.
A Federal Aviation Administration-mandated helicopter route requiring copters traversing the length of Long Island to fly over water a mile off its north shore is due to expire in August, and Long Island’s representatives in Washington are calling for its renewal.
Senator Charles E. Schumer and Congressman Tim Bishop have also called for a modification to the mandate, requiring helicopters to go around Orient Point and Shelter Island when landing at South Fork airports.
That would “bring all of that northern traffic in over East Hampton land and waters,” Kathy Cunningham, the director of East Hampton’s Quiet Skies Coalition, told the town board Tuesday.
Ms. Cunningham said helicopters would come in over Montauk and Gardiner’s Bay under that scenario, which, she said, had been suggested during discussions under the Wilkinson administration to address airport noise complaints from North Fork communities and Southampton Town.
Also on Tuesday, Mr. Brundige reviewed two proposals that the board is expected to vote on tonight. A proposed 10-percent increase in landing fees would raise an additional $100,000 this year, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said. Last year, landing fees totaled about $1.3 million.
Also proposed is a 100-percent increase in the fuel “flowage fee,” a service charge on each gallon of aviation fuel sold at the airport fuel farm. If approved, the fee would go from 15 to 30 cents per gallon.
Both changes have been recommended by the town’s budget and finance advisory committee.
Speaking to the board on Tuesday, Cindy Herbst of Sound Aircraft Services, which, she said, runs the fuel farm cooperatively with the town, said the increase was unwarranted. At other airports with comparable fees, she said, other services are provided. “I just don’t think a 100-percent increase in justifiable,” Ms. Herbst said.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez later told the board that the 15-cent fee had not been changed in 20 years, and that the current proposal might be a precursor to a change that would tie the fee to a percentage of the per-gallon cost of fuel.