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East Hampton Airport closure delayed, FAA and board come to agreement on restoring services in Spring

Americasroof, CC BY-SA 2.5, via " target="_blank">Wikimedia Commons" target="_blank">After facing much opposition from the FAA and local businesses on the temporary closure of the East Hampton Airport (HTO), the East Hampton Town Board unanimously voted Thursday to delay the closure until May 17 at midnight. The Southampton Press reports that East Hampton is still expected to be redesignated private-use upon its opening 33 hours later at 9 a.m. on May 19. After a meeting between the town board and the FAA on Wednesday, both parties came to an agreement on a new timeline that would allow for a "phased-in" restoration of flight services that the airport currently offers, including GPS instrument approach and the use of the control tower. According to the town, the new schedule will allow the East Hampton control tower to immediately return to service upon the airport's reopening, giving the tower control of all aircraft within a five-mile radius of the airport. East Hampton Airport avoids major consequences from FAA by delaying closure The board originally scheduled the airport's closure for a four-day period from February 28 through March 4, a move that the FAA reprimanded with a letter on February 2, according to the East Hampton Star. Local FAA supervisor Marie Kennington-Gardiner said in the letter that the board should expect the airport to be unavailable to provide all of its current flight services for two years, with some FAA services not expected to return upon reopening. The East Hampton Star shared a statement from the office of town supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc that said the FAA "expects to have all of its internal processes completed for opening of the new private-use airport, except for the introduction of flight procedures, no later than May 19, 2022." 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. Once an aeronautical study is completed by the FAA, the air navigation facilities at the East Hampton Airport should be available upon activation. All weather, navigation, and communication aids should be operable and available. While Kennington-Gardiner had originally threatened the termination of TRACON agreements in the February 2 letter, the board said that new agreements will be entered into in time for the new airport to be safely used by operators. What the private-use status means for those allowed to fly into the airport 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, the board says so have the noise complaints from 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. Airports 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 lawsuits The 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 called for a judge to stop the town from closing the airport, citing the possibility the airport could not reopen in its originally planned timeframe and using the FAA's February 2 letter as evidence. 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. On Thursday, a spokesman for the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council (ERHC) pleaded with the community to stop filing new lawsuits and allow for the necessary time for negotiations with the town and the FAA, said the Southampton Press. "We are pleased the East Hampton Town Board is starting to listen to commonsense solutions and delayed their plans for the airport to allow for more discussions and alternate solutions," the ERHC spokesman, Loren Riegelhaupt said in a statement. "For everyone's best interests, we ask that all sides stop filing lawsuits and implore the Town not to rush ahead with their misguided plans to close the airport. Instead, we suggest that all of the impacted parties come together to find a solution that works for all." This is not the first attempt at closing East Hampton Airport In 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 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.
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