Paid Study Touts Airport’s Benefits

Pluses are many, report finds, but noise control advocates cry foul

       A study of the East Hampton Airport commissioned and paid for by airport users and businesses, has deemed the facility a “vital transportation asset” for East Hampton and an “economic engine” for the East End. The study was conducted by New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management in collaboration with Appleseed, a New York City economic development consulting firm.

       It concludes that the “second-home owners and visitors who use the airport are central in making the Town of East Hampton more attractive as a resort destination and a place to call home for year-round residents.” According to a public relations firm promoting its findings, the study was bankrolled by “a coalition of airport users and businesses like Sound Aircraft and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.”

       The Quiet Skies Coalition, a local airport noise control group, said this week that the study was commissioned “to pave the way for unlimited helicopter traffic into and out of East Hampton Airport.”

       The coalition had the study evaluated by several professors and an urban policy and planning expert, and called it “scientifically flawed” and its conclusions “grossly misleading.”

       The study reviews East Hampton Airport data, such as the number of annual flight operations, which are concentrated in the summer months, the cost to the town of operating the airport, and revenue generated by it, primarily through sales of aviation fuel, and the operation at the airport of two businesses, Sound Aircraft Services and Myers Aero Fuels, as well as the two car-rental agencies there.

       The report calls the airport “a substantial enterprise in its own right.” Quoting a conclusion in a 2010 New York State Department of Transportation study of New York State airports, it says that a total of 65 employees in airport-related jobs there earn wages of more than $4.4 million.

       The airport’s “real value to the town’s economy is rooted in the support the airport provides to East Hampton’s leisure and hospitality industries, and in particular to its second-home sector,” the report says.

       According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Local Employment Dynamics data, the report says, just over 19 percent of the town’s workers are employed in “leisure industries,” and another 12.8 percent in retail.

       The report names construction as another important East Hampton industry, citing the construction business generated by second homes here, and claims that the airport, in enabling fast access by helicopter or plane, “plays an important role in maintaining East Hampton’s attractiveness as a second home location.”

       It assumes that each flight into and out of East Hampton carries an average of three passengers, who stay for an average of three days, spending an average of $500 a day — concluding that lo cal spending by airport users in 2011 totaled nearly $48 million.

       It extrapolates from that that the spending by airport users supported 647 “full-time-equivalent jobs” here, or “about 7.3 percent of all employment in East Hampton in 2011.”

       In addition, the report asserts that through “establishing and maintaining the value of East Hampton’s ‘brand,’ ” homeowners and visitors who use the airport “play a central role in making the town more attractive to a wide range of other part-time residents and visitors.”

       The establishment at the airport this year of a seasonal air traffic control tower, the report says, “should help make East Hampton Airport a more attractive option for corporate travel — and the town a more attractive business location.”

       The study was sent to The Star by a representative of SKDKnickerbocker, a public relations, communications, and consulting firm in Washington, D.C., New York, and Albany.

       The firm had sought to “roll out” the study, asking to place a summary by its author, Mitchell Moss, as an Op-Ed piece. His take on the study ran instead as a letter to the editor last week.

       According to Mr. Moss in his letter to the editor, “the interconnected character of transportation and economic activity and the vital role of aviation in emergency response infrastructure” would all be “severely impacted by the closure of or by limited flights to the East Hampton Airport.”

       Mr. Moss is director of the Rudin Center. The Quiet Skies Coalition claims in its letter that the helicopter council is one of the center’s “supporting affiliates.” The center’s board of directors, the organization says, “is made up almost entirely of representatives of the transportation industry and its allies.” And, the group notes, as one of three Appleseed partners, Mr. Moss works as “a private sector economic development consultant.”

       Local airport noise control advocates, including the Quiet Skies Coalition, have been consistently accused by the East Hampton Aviation Association and other airport supporters of seeking to have the airport closed, though they have continually said that is not their agenda.

       The noise-control advocates have supported enacting local regulations that could limit use of the airport in order to stem noise.

       In his letter, Mr. Moss acknowledges that noise issues are serious and must be addressed. However, he says, to “hold this vital economic infrastructure hostage . . . puts at risk the very economic and emergency response foundation of the entire region.”

       In the Quiet Skies press release, Vincent T. Covello, formerly of Columbia and Brown Universities and currently director of the Center for Risk Communication, called the Moss document “an intellectual deceit.”

       It is “an advertisement of the airport” rather than an analysis of the airport’s economics, said T. James Matthews in the press release.

       Mr. Matthews, a professor emeritus and former vice dean at N.Y.U. who lives in Northwest, takes issue with some of the report’s specifics in his own letter to the editor this week.

       Along with Peter M. Wolf, another East Hampton resident and author of several books on municipal planning who also reviewed the study, the reviewers “found the study replete with errors and baseless assumptions,” the Quiet Skies Coalition said.

       The report was released in the final days of the re-election campaign mounted by Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the Quiet Skies Coalition response noted, calling the councilman, who has served as the town board’s liaison on airport matters, “the darling of the helicopter industry.” Referring to Mr. Stanzione’s stance that the town should accept new Federal Aviation Administration grants for airport projects, which could minimize the town’s opportunities to enact airport use restrictions, the group says that Mr. Stanzione has pledged to “take actions surrendering the town’s proprietary rights to limit helicopter and other aircraft traffic for noise control purposes for another 20 years.”