Thursday, December 21, 2017

Critics Call East Hampton Airport (KHTO) Tower Relocation Expansion

Aircraft using East Hampton Airport on August 4th, one of about 15 days last summer during which helicopters were directed over portions of Sag Harbor by air traffic controllers. 

East Hampton Town moved forward this week on two projects that critics said would be an expansion of East Hampton Airport.

Following a Tuesday morning town board work session, officials were ready to authorize $2.1 million in borrowing to pay for an improved taxiway alongside the airport’s main runway. The town board is expected to vote on the authorization at a meeting in Town Hall tonight.

The board also began considering whether to relocate and increase the height of the airport’s control tower.

A taxiway extension has been planned since at least 2016, Jim Brundige, the airport manager, told the town board during Tuesday’s meeting. The goal is to connect two existing taxiways, bringing the airport more into conformity with other airports around the country, though the Federal Aviation Administration does not require it.

The project would include removing outdated and faulty lighting along runway 10-28, the main east-west landing strip, and other improvements. Durable LED fixtures would be installed in place of incandescent bulbs, which need frequent replacement, Mr. Brundige said.

Members of the town board, speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, were in general favorably disposed toward the taxiway work, which would cost about $800,000. Questions remained about whether the town might pay for it with the airport surplus fund instead of borrowing the money through a bond issue.

Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the airport surplus might be a better source of the money than borrowing. Len Bernard, the town’s financial manager, concurred, saying it would be preferential over adding debt. “It is the best practice to pay cash,” he said.

The airport fund swelled in 2017 from landing fees and leases paid to the town for the use of portions of the property. Several parcels of town-owned land at the airport are to be sold in January, which will add about $4.75 million to the fund, which stood at about $2.7 million as of this week, Mr. Bernard said.

Questions about the control tower spurred more heated discussion.

According to Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who is the board’s point person on the airport, numerous complaints were lodged last summer about helicopters flying low over certain neighborhoods during inclement weather.

The controllers’ eye level is about 16 feet above the ground; the tower is roughly in the southeast corner of the airport, near a line of trees. The flights that caused complaints occurred when air traffic controllers directed helicopter pilots onto a northerly route because, given the tower’s relatively low height and location, the controllers were unable to see the approaches and departures.

During periods of bad weather, aircraft come into the airport lower than usual, well below a recommended 2,500-foot altitude, putting them out of visual contact with the controllers if they approach from the south. On bad-weather days last summer helicopters were sent over the Azurest area of Sag Harbor. Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said she had visited that area on a cloudy Friday afternoon in August and observed heavy helicopter traffic.

In all, air traffic controllers sent helicopters over the northern approach to East Hampton Airport on only about 15 days in 2017, Mr. Brundige said. Replacing the tower with one that is taller and in a better location would allow helicopters to avoid flying over populated areas more often as they approach the airport on visually difficult days, he said. “The question is, do we want to provide a tower that’s fully functional,” Mr. Brundige told the town board.

“Has the FAA asked for this at all?” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby asked from the dais.

“No, not at all,” he said.

“I believe that the town board wants to reduce the amount of traffic,” Ms. Overby said. Supervisor Cantwell interjected, asking, “Does the tower encourage one more aircraft?”

“No, they are coming anyway,” Mr. Brundige said, adding that tower personnel are asking for it to be relocated and made taller.

“I see this as increasing traffic. This is an expansion of the airport. It’s a bigger tower,” Ms. Overby said. She went on to say the taxiway project also seemed to represent growth in the facility’s capacity. She questioned why the town would want to put more money into the airport while an F.A.A.-mandated noise study was getting underway. “If you build it, they will come,” she said, adding, “It should be up to the local community to decide how the airport should be used or not.”

Mr. Cantwell and Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who will be in the supervisor’s seat come January, wanted more detail about the number of takeoffs and landings that were out of eyesight before making a decision.

“This is definitely an expansion, one that we feared when they first put in the tower,” Kathleen Cunningham of the Quiet Skies Coalition said. “It’s all for the helicopters.”

Since East Hampton Town is trying to minimize the number of helicopter landings and takeoffs through the F.A.A.-mandated study, she said it made no sense to improve the control tower so that more, not fewer, could be accommodated in almost all kinds of weather. “It’s at cross-purposes. It does not make a whit of sense,” Ms. Cunningham said.

She supported the taxiway project as a necessary safety improvement for the airport, however. It also would eliminate the use of a secondary runway by large, heavy aircraft as they moved about on the ground, lengthening its serviceable life and holding off the day that the town would have to repave it.

Original article can be found here ➤

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