Friday, October 23, 2015

East Hampton Airport (KHTO) Rules: Economy Is OK, Airlines Survived–Drop the Lawsuit

OCTOBER 23, 2015


Last Friday, just before 8 p.m., I heard a very loud and very large aircraft come rumbling in low over my head in a big hurry to land at East Hampton Airport. I live on Three Mile Harbor, about 5 miles away. And I knew what was going on.

A wealthy private jet owner was in the back of the plane, urging on his pilot to get down onto the runway before the 8 p.m. curfew. There were just a few minutes to spare. Being late would result in a $1,000 fine for first offense, $4,000 for second, $10,000 for third, and for a fourth, a refusal to allow the use of the airport to land a plane for the next two years. They might not care about the money. They would care about being banned.

As things are right now, this curfew for the noisiest aircraft is in effect from 8 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next day, when everybody living near the airport presumably has at least had breakfast. There is also a change in the hours the airport is open. Until now, planes could come and go 24/7. Now it is open only from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The same punishments apply for violators.

Peace has been restored. Or has it?

Last month, the airport manager made his report on how things went over there between January 1 and July 31. Airport landings and takeoffs were 29% higher than a year ago. There was a 70% increase in seaplanes, 51% increase in other planes and noisy planes and 1% increase in noisy helicopters.

As a result of this, those around the airport said this can’t go on. Everything is just getting worse and worse. Do something.

A week later, however, the airport manager returned with a revised report. The old report, he said, was prepared from inaccurate information. The new report says all the aircraft comings and goings were just about the same as a year ago. Total was up 2%. Seaplanes up 7%. Fixed wing 9%.

Oh, everybody around the airport said. Well then, that’s not so bad. Until now things have been going up and up. Now it’s leveled off.

It was also reported last week that the Town of East Hampton, which owns and operates the airport, has increased the set-aside for legal fees to nearly a million dollars to defend itself from lawsuits filed by airline owners and others who want the new laws swept aside or have other issues with aspects of the airport. Those filing one suit go by the name of “Friends of East Hampton Airport,” which is definitely not to be confused with the “Friends of Those Who Live Around East Hampton Airport.”

The “Friends of the Airport” have already lost the first round. They had filed for an injunction. But the judge affirmed the right of an airport to regulate its comings and goings, at least to the extent that it be allowed to put into effect these two restrictions while the matter proceeds. (The judge did give an injunction to prevent one new proposed town law. It would have restricted noisy aircraft to just two landings or takeoffs a week.)

For those who believe this is all about what the “market” wants and that the market wants a stream of aircraft in and out of East Hampton unimpeded, well, there’s more to life than just everybody led around by the nose for money.

The “Friends” have hired the best lawyers in the country to make their case. These lawyers claimed these laws would cause problems to the airlines’ bottom lines and the town’s economy. They haven’t.

I think that if the town needs to spend a million to defend itself from this, then the “Friends” should be required to pay it. Find out who is a member of this group and charge an increased landing fee, caused by a special “lawyer tax” on their aircraft as they come and go.

My guess is they can afford it.

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