There are two ways you can run an airport. You can run it with the help of the FAA, which means you abide by their regulations but they give you a whole lot of federal money for runways, airport towers, traffic controllers and everything else. Or you can run it privately as a business, without help from the FAA.
I remember the time 25 years ago when the FAA accepted the application of East Hampton Airport. We were overjoyed. East Hampton had been, not long before, a dirt runway with a “terminal” that consisted of a chicken coop donated by a farmer, shoved up against a World War I army barrack. We joined the FAA. Everything was updated. The Feds paid for nearly all of it. They took over responsibility for lengthening the runways, providing security and insurance. They even provided nearly all funding for a new airport terminal, complete with control room. We breathed a whole lot easier then.
But as years went by, local residents began to get really fed up with the FAA and its inability to control airport noise. It was true that houses were being built closer and closer to the airport, so there were more people to complain. But now more planes and helicopters were going in and out, flying low over everybody’s houses. It was becoming intolerable.
In response, the FAA set up all sorts of new flight patterns for arriving aircraft. But, frankly, none of them worked. The FAA took an “on the one hand this and the other hand that” approach to the needs of the pilots and the homeowners. And so now East Hampton is toying with the idea of throwing the FAA out—the airport is owned by the Town—and running the operation themselves without FAA help, as they used to. There are, it turns out, other airports in the country about the size of East Hampton that set their own rules. What the hell do we need the FAA for? The rich and famous will pay anything to get out here by plane or chopper.
Last week the numbers came out for the Memorial Day weekend at the airport. There were 20% more planes and choppers this holiday weekend than the holiday weekend a year ago. The tide was becoming a flood.
Over that weekend, 872 planes and choppers came in and out. The airport fielded 475 noise complaints, 302 about helicopters and 173 about airplanes. That means there was an average of one complaint for every other aircraft. Some came in quietly. Others rattled the windows. This can’t go on.
At a board meeting last week, East Hampton Town voted to increase the fees for landings and takeoffs by 10%. They also voted on a measure that would increase the town charges for “fuel flow” when the planes gas up.
The second resolution—to increase fuel flowage fees by 15 cents a gallon—was tabled. But the first passed, and is expected to bring in an additional $100,000 in revenue.
The other piece of news was the release of a new study that concludes the Town can run the airport and make money without the FAA.
East Hampton Airport should free itself of the FAA. When they do, here are some rules they could put in place.
1. A plane that rolls in very noisily and produces complaints from neighbors should be given the heave-ho. As it comes taxiing in, officers from the East Hampton Airport Police sound the alarm, hop in their jeeps, meet the plane halfway down the runway, and force it to turn around and take back off and never come back. We’d write down the big numbers you see on the underside of the wings. An elephant never forgets.
2. The FAA does not require a security check at small airports such as ours that it controls. But we have an international clientele and should have a security check. There’s lots of money to be made at a security check. If we tighten up the readings on the x-ray machines, we could locate valuable jewelry and wristwatches. The rich are loaded with them. Diamonds are sharp, will cut through anything and are surely a terrorist threat. They have no place on an aircraft and we should confiscate them. These baubles can be confiscated, collected in bins, sorted through and distributed to the citizenry later.
3. Aircraft impounding. Here’s more money to be made. Put up “No Parking” signs and signs reading “10 Minute Parking Only” and signs reading “This space for Disabled Only.” Planes violating the law get turned over to the town-owned towing company, which will show up, connect the hook and cart off the offender. Fines would be $10,000 a day plus $500 for the tow. Since these offenses would be considered court cases, with lawyers and judges and stenographers and so forth, it could take a week or two before a judgment is rendered. Besides the fines piling up, we could allow some of the locals to hop in, fire them up and fly off to do touch-and-goes and get the feel of an aircraft that is state-of-the-art for the rich and famous.
4. You know about the luggage fees on aircraft now, which can be $50 and $60? Charge $70 for rolling a piece of luggage through the terminal, either toward or away from the plane.
5. Make it clear that bribery is a way of life at the airport. The Mayor, with his palm greased, can get you through the airport terminal, avoiding time-consuming paperwork and passport stamping without problem at East Hampton.
6. Hire one of the locals as an “Airport Commander” and have him in uniform, strolling around on the runways and looking for things that might be out of order. He issues tickets and accepts fines on the spot.
7. Detain every 100th passenger arriving on a plane at East Hampton Airport. There need be no rhyme nor reason to this. Be vague about why they are being detained. It will keep people on their toes. And only release a detainee upon payment of $1,000 cash if a New York resident, $10,000 cash for a celebrity, $50,000 for a hedge fund operator or $5 for a local.
8. Install pay toilets that take quarters on the doors of all the terminal bathrooms. Two quarters gets the door unlocked for you for ten minutes.
9. Charge a fee for watching planes land and take off.
10. Require that all aircraft that land here undergo a daily emissions test and decibel sound check and issue stickers to put on windshields for those that pass. The stickers will be dated, however, and are good only for that day.
It seems to me that with these rules in place—the rich will consider them “quaint”—the East Hampton Airport can march proudly into the future, knowing for certain that it has enough money to operate and keep its head above water, the aircraft in line and everybody quiet without the FAA. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?