The battle over the East Hampton Airport's (HTO) closure and redesignation has been rekindled as the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and other general aviation groups advise officials in East Hampton, NY about the ramifications of their plans.
The East Hampton Town Board unanimously voted last month to delay the airport's closure until May 17 at midnight, but it is still expected to redesignate the facility to private use when it opens two days later. Under a prior permission required (PPR) program, airport users could face curfews, frequency limitations for commercial and noisy operations, weight limitations, and other restrictions.
In a letter to the town, the associations noted the FAA has yet to determine whether such a "logistically risky conversion process" would grant the town the "local control" it seeks to implement the PPR.
East Hampton Airport originally faced much opposition from the FAA
The board had originally scheduled the airport's closure for a four-day period at the end of February, but the move was reprimanded by the FAA.
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 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.
While the board and the agency appeared to be at a crossroads, a meeting was held in February that appeared to quell the major issues. Out of the meeting came an agreement on a new timeline that would allow for a "phased-in" restoration of flight services that the airport currently offers.
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 new schedule is also said to 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.
GA groups cite federal requirements to keep open access to HTO and potential financial strugglesThe groups maintained their position that the town's proposal would not release it from numerous federal requirements to maintain open access to the East Hampton Airport, including the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA) and both the statutory and implied preemptive authority of the FAA.
"We respectfully submit there is simply no authority for the notion that a paper closure of an airport ‘extinguishes' those obligations," the letter read. "As a consequence, the town would be well-advised to suspend its consideration of all of the proposals currently under review," and withdraw its plans to deactivate HTO in its current form.
The letter also advised the town to consider the potentially detrimental effects of several PPR proposals on the table. Those include the likely "spillover" to other communities from traffic diverting from HTO and the financial and logistical burdens for assuming sole responsibility for maintaining the airport."Faced with great capital improvement needs after decades of minimal maintenance, the airport currently requires significant investment to be maintained and operated in a safe manner," noted the letter. The groups raised concerns that the restrictions will cause the airport to struggle to raise enough revenue to be self-sustainable.
What the private-use status means for HTO and its neighboring airports
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.
The Town of East Hampton was served with three lawsuits in February calling for a judge to stop the town from closing the airport, citing the possibility the airport could not reopen on time, reported Newsday. While the FAA appears to have completed a new timeline with the town, its neighboring airport is not sold on the new designation.
Plaintiffs in one proceeding included 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 roughly 25 miles away from East Hampton. It does not carry fuel, leaving some operators without the necessary amenities should East Hampton shut its gate to them.
A spokesman for the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council later pleaded with the community to stop filing new lawsuits to allow for the negotiations between the FAA and the town, but those negotiations have not yet touched on the diverted traffic to smaller neighboring airports.
The letter proposes a mutually-beneficial resolution
The groups proposed a mutually-beneficial resolution, emphasizing their willingness to work with the Town. The associations noted that the Town officials may have been too quick to discount a solution under Subpart B of FAR Part 161, which authorizes voluntary agreements between airport users and proprietors.
"We recognize that we are at a unique juncture," the letter read. "We likewise recognize the challenge of navigating the uncharted path to preserve the airport while responding to requests to reduce volume and frequency of operations.
"Our national and regional organizations are looking forward to engaging with the town and the FAA to seek common ground for a solution that would balance the benefits of both commerce and noise-sensitive operations," the letter concluded.
Other general aviation groups who signed the letter include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Eastern Region Helicopter Council, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, and National Air Transportation Association.
Previously: East Hampton Airport closure delayed, FAA and board come to agreement on restoring services in Spring