Less than a month after air traffic controllers set up shop at East Hampton Airport and began guiding flights into and out of just under 10 miles of controlled airspace, the impact of the control tower and motivation for its construction are being debated.
Members of the Quiet Skies Coalition and the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion have expressed disappointment in the potential for the air traffic controllers to alleviate the impact of noise on those under flight paths, which was to be an added benefit of having controlled airspace over East Hampton. Both groups have lobbied for the town to decline Federal Aviation Administration money in order to gain more local control over the airport. Restricting access, they say, is the only way to control aircraft noise.
In the controlled airspace extending a 4.8-mile radius around the airport, pilots must follow prescribed routes, which could presumably spread traffic around instead of across the same areas over and over; in uncontrolled airspace, pilots determine their own approach.
Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the town board’s airport liaison, says it is too early to judge. Because of a 30-day waiting period following the federal designation of controlled airspace around East Hampton, compliance with minimum altitudes issued by the traffic controllers will not be mandatory until July 26.
Nonetheless, Mr. Stanzione pointed to a press release issued last week by the airport manager, Jim Brundige, citing helicopters’ increased compliance with voluntary minimum altitude suggestions from January through June. “We expect continued improvement,” Mr. Brundige said in the release.
“I think the new tower will produce better results,” Mr. Stanzione said early this week. “Is there more work to do? Absolutely. But the early results are encouraging.”
But on Tuesday, Kathleen Cunningham, the head of the Quiet Skies Coalition, which picketed Town Hall on July 5 to call attention to what it called a false promise that controlling air traffic would ameliorate noise, pressed Mr. Stanzione on what kind of noise mitigation measures are being taken. “I would like to know what the noise abatement policy is.” The town’s air traffic controllers, she said, “say they’re not managing traffic into and out of the airport according to a noise policy.”
“Where are the noise monitors? How are we measuring?” she asked. A noise abatement plan, Mr. Stanzione said, is a component of an overall airport management plan that the board is developing with the help of a consultant.
“This comprehensive plan is the most thoughtful and insightful look at the airport in 15 years,” Mr. Stanzione said. Ms. Cunningham agreed but expressed frustration that measures are not yet in place.
At an orientation meeting at the airport on June 30, an F.A.A. representative and the chief air traffic controller made it clear that the foremost goal of controlling flights is safety, members of her group said at a July 5 town board meeting.
“We should name our new control tower ‘Stanzione’s folly,’ ” Susan McGraw Keber told the town board. She carried a sign with that phrase. “Duped Into Airport Expansion,” another sign said. Another read: “$1 Million; Still No Noise Policy.”
“I charge Councilman Dominick Stanzione with three things,” she said. “First, he duped everyone. Second, he has wasted over $1 million of town money. And third, I believe he is pursuing an agenda aimed at expanding our airport into a regional hub.” The first step, she said, was getting the control tower up, “enabling increased traffic.”
Erecting a control tower and employing air traffic controllers during the peak summer travel season has long been the town’s plan, and financial plans for it have been included in capital budgets. It was first suggested by members of a town Airport Noise Abatement Advisory Committee, headed by Ms. Cunningham under a previous administration and disbanded by the current town board. Mr. Stanzione had worked over the last year to bring the control tower to fruition.
“The support for the tower was always generated by the promise of noise mitigation,” Ms. McGraw Keber said at the meeting on July 5.
But at the orientation meeting, which was recorded by attendees, Charles Carpenter of Robinson Aviation, the company providing the traffic controllers, told the assembled aviators: “It’s not about noise. We’re about separating you guys, and making it safe for you.”
The F.A.A.’s “principal obligation is safety. I think that is our principal obligation as well,” Mr. Stanzione said at that meeting. But, he said, while safety is the “most important function of air traffic control . . . having professionally controlled airspace can have a meaningful impact on noise in our community, and we’re hopeful that will occur.”
And, he added this week, as to whether traffic is routed based on safety or shielding residents from noise, “maybe they’re not mutually exclusive.” Safety considerations, he said, include ground safety, which could mean directing aircraft over the least populated areas of town.
Ms. McGraw Keber charged that the second part of Mr. Stanzione’s “not so hidden agenda,” was “to trick the town into taking a grant for a deer fence from the F.A.A. Accepting federal money would take away local control of the airport for 20 years,” she said. “Under F.A.A. control, the tower will surely support and encourage more air traffic, enabling the final part of Stanzione’s plan which is to turn a small airport into a regional hub.”
“What could motivate such duplicitous and egregious behavior?” she asked. “May I suggest that we follow the money?” She asked the board to consider “who would have the most to gain. . . . Perhaps we might call on Mr. Ben Krupinski,” she said, pointing out that he owns a hangar at the airport as well as a private charter company and one that provides fuel and other aircraft services. “But I leave it to the board to put together those missing dots.”
Dressed in red, white, and blue on July 5, Ms. Cunningham read the group’s “Declaration of Independence from the Federal Aviation Administration,” dated July 4: “The history of the F.A.A. is a history of repeated injuries and usurpation, all having in direct object the establishment of a tyranny over our town, our skies, and our good people.”
“The F.A.A. and this town board have been deaf to the voice of justice and of conscience,” she read. “We hereby call for a moratorium on accepting funding from the Federal Aviation Administration that in any way restricts the ability of the Town of East Hampton to limit the number of excessively noisy aircraft, to limit the arrival and departure times of excessively noisy aircraft, set altitude limits for excessively noisy aircraft, and to ban excessively noisy aircraft from using the East Hampton Airport.”
“This is our town; these are our skies,” the declaration concluded.
Speaking at a town board board meeting on July 10, David Gruber, a member of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion, said that “it will be clear by the end of the summer” that a solution to noise disturbance will only be possible “when the town is willing to control hours of operation, numbers of aircraft operations, and aircraft types.”
He predicted the control tower would be “an expensive failure” and would have no meaningful impact on noise problems. “I’ll be here to say ‘I told you so’ in September,” he said.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley expressed doubts as well. “I’m not quite sure whether the control tower in and of itself is going to have much of an effect,” she said.
“At no time was this control tower presented as a silver bullet,” Mr. Stanzione said, but rather it was “part of a package, an airport management plan to address noise.” The 42-point plan devised with the help of Peter Kirsch, an airport consultant, includes curfews and beginning a sound study that could provide data needed to make a case to the F.A.A. that local regulations are needed. To petition the F.A.A. for permission to enact its own rules, and to fight potential lawsuits against local rules effectively, Mr. Stanzione said, the town must demonstrate it has first tried other measures to mitigate noise, such as air traffic control.
Ms. Quigley suggested that the board look to immediately implement other measures as well, saying that Mr. Kirsch had advised the board that it has the authority to enact restrictions on helicopters.
For example, she said, if the airport runways were set up so that those arriving would have to exit through the airport terminal, the hours the terminal would be open would effectively limit when landings occur.
In a press release and letters to the editor this week, the Quiet Skies Coalition asserted that the town should begin compiling noise measurement data in order to have a record on which to base future requests to the F.A.A. to institute restrictions, such as curfews and other airport access limits.