Friday, April 20, 2018

Town Grounds Blade Flights to East Hampton

Two days after the East Hampton Town Board heard a presentation on how it might restrict flights at East Hampton Airport, the board revoked a license agreement with Fly Blade, which offers scheduled and charter helicopter flights to East Hampton.

The town also authorized the town attorney to file a complaint with the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings of the United States Department of Transportation asking for a review of Blade's practices and its consistency with federal obligations.

The board charged that Fly Blade, Inc., with which the town entered into a license agreement in 2016, is deceptively marketing itself as offering scheduled passenger service to East Hampton Airport. The airport is not certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to accommodate scheduled passenger service.

Edward Burke Jr., a Sag Harbor attorney representing the company, issued a statement on Friday that Blade had not been notified of the change by anyone from East Hampton Town. He also said that the company complies with Department of Transportation requirements.

As of Friday afternoon, Blade's website offered scheduled flights to the South Fork, including a 5:30 p.m. flight from the West 30th Street Heliport to East Hampton Airport, at $795 per seat. A 5:15 p.m. flight from Manhattan to East Hampton via seaplane, at $695 per seat, was sold out. Seats to East Hampton Airport could be booked as far out as late August.

A statement issued by the town on Thursday said that Blade has previously been investigated by the Department of Transportation and was "determined to have violated federal law by engaging in air transportation as a direct and indirect air carrier without economic authority." As a result of the violations, the company signed a consent agreement with the department and paid a $40,000 fine.

In an add-on resolution on Thursday night, the town board voted to revoke the 2016 license agreement and said it would not issue Blade a new license until the company complies with Department of Transportation and FAA rules.

"Our small, local general aviation airport is not designed for scheduled air service" and that the town "will not tolerate operators violating the law, especially when the safety of the flying public is jeopardized by unfair and deceptive business practices of operators," Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board's co-liaison for East Hampton Airport, said in Thursday's release.

"The town faces a steep increase in air traffic through businesses that appear to offer, in advance, scheduled passenger service to the airport, either through smartphone applications or by offering scheduled passenger service to the public directly," Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said in the release. "It has an obligation not just to ensure that the airport remains safe for all users, but also that adequate disclosures are made to the travelling public with respect to commercial arrangements at the airport."

Councilman Jeffrey Bragman, the other co-liaison for the airport, said in the same release that, "Until such time that they prove that they are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, they have no place at East Hampton Airport. Ride sharing of helicopters which masquerades as scheduled service is damaging to our community and small airport."

The town's decision followed Tuesday's long discussion between the board and Bill O'Conner, an attorney assisting the town with an analysis known as an FAA Part 161 study, which airports must perform when proposing local noise or operational restrictions on aircraft. The study is part of a new effort to exert control over noise that has long plagued people living under East Hampton Airport flight paths.

The board is focusing on potential ways to restrict, or even ban, aircraft deemed noisy, including helicopters. Officials hope that the Part 161 study will be completed and be ready to submit in the fall.

Original article can be found here ➤

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