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East Hampton Airport could close and reopen as a private airport, but the FAA and locals are fighting back

The Town Board of East Hampton recently announced its plans to temporarily close the East Hampton Airport (HTO) on February 28 and reopen March 4 as a private-use facility. However, that move has triggered an uproar of opposition. Located in Wainscott, New York, and just west of the Hamptons, the airport is a hotspot for celebrities and high-net-worth individuals escaping the nearby major cities via private jets and helicopters. As traffic has increased over the years, so have the noise complaints from the surrounding communities. In September of last year, the airport's FAA grant assurances expired, which allowed the town to take control of operations. The Town Board of East Hampton unanimously voted to restrict access with a prior permission requirement to curb aircraft noise. FAA responds to East Hampton Airport restriction with threat of consequencesAccording to the East Hampton Star, the FAA sent a letter on February 2, reminding the town board that closing and reopening the airport is not a simple process. Local FAA supervisor Marie Kennington-Gardiner said that instead of closing the facility for a few days, the board should expect the facility to be unavailable in its current form for two years. Additionally, some of the facilities and services provided by the FAA may not return. If the airport closes, despite the length of the closure time, all approaches will be canceled, navaids and weather gear will be decommissioned, and the air traffic control agreement with the New York TRACON would be canceled. The FAA would do an airspace analysis prior to the airport's reopening to consider "the effect of the proposed airport on existing or contemplated traffic patterns, its effect on the existing airspace structure, and the effects that existing or proposed manmade or natural objects would have on the airport proposal." The FAA local supervisor also said that private airports must pay to have their own instrument approaches designed either by private companies or through a reimbursement scheme with the FAA, and any changes would trigger additional analysis. The same goes for all the gear on the ground that the agency now provides for free. At a board meeting in early February, the Star reported that East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the FAA was disingenuous "to suggest that an extensive evaluation of whether the airport is safe to operate is required."Scoyoc says the airport is currently operating safely, having gone on to say at the February board meeting that the FAA has not previously raised safety concerns over the East Hampton Airport's operations, airspace, or procedures."To the extent the airport is not authorized to open or any of its capabilities not improved," continued Scoyoc, "that is the direct result of the FAA turning its back on the town and deciding in the 11th hour that it cannot accomplish what it previously told the town would be possible."What the private-use status means for those allowed to fly into the airportAirports that switch from public-use to private-use only allow the landing of aircraft that have received permission. The town would have the power to restrict aircraft types, limit the hours of operation and even prohibit commercial use. In a statement released by the town board, it indicated that it plans to control "helicopters, jets, and other aircraft that have had an intensifying community impact", citing "thousands of complaints" as the reason for the restrictions. A New York Post article published earlier this month noted that closing the airport would allow the town to "run off" with a reported $10 million of extra cash meant for the airport.East Hampton is the landing field for many big names, including Mets owner Steve Cohen, who may not take kindly to the airport's closure.By reopening the airport for private-use, it allows the board to cater to these high-net-worth individuals, leaving neighboring airports to support the traffic turned away from East Hampton.Town of East Hampton hit with three lawsuitsThe Town was recently served with three separate lawsuits, including one from Blade, an air charter broker that serves the Hamptons area, reported Newsday. The lawsuits call for a judge to stop the town from closing the airport, citing the possibility the airport cannot reopen in its planned four-day timeframe. Plaintiffs in one proceeding include two hangar companies that sublease space at the East Hampton Airport and a group of Montauk residents who believe they will be impacted by increased traffic at Montauk Airport (MTP) should East Hampton close.Montauk is a public-use airport, but it does not carry fuel, leaving some operators without necessary amenities should East Hampton shut its gates. The lawsuits also claim the town is not adhering to the state environmental review process and call on the airport closure to pause so that the review can be conducted. This is not the first attempt at closing East Hampton AirportIn 2014, East Hampton Airport was caught in a battle between aviation organizations fighting the town to maintain access to the airfield. Once again, the town cited noise complaints as its reason for restricting access. Jeff Smith, vice president of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council (EHRC) at that time, said: "They've already increased landing fees 20 percent for jets and helicopters. "The numbers don't add up," he continued. "They're trying to limit or eliminate helicopters and jest, but more than 50 percent of their revenue comes from those aircraft. They're trying to kill the airport." Smith told the NBAA that between 2009 and 2014, the EHRC spent over $250,000 on noise monitoring, studies, advocacy and education to appease local residents concerned about noise. The New York Post published an article in January of this year that showed that nearly 80% of local residents wanted the airport to stay open as it provides services and jobs, and that the closure would redirect air traffic to neighboring airports. Despite the warning from the FAA, multiple lawsuits, and public outcry to keep the airport open, the town is still planning to move forward with the closure on February 28.
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