Dan Rattiner's Stories

Defying the FAA: If You Push the FAA Too Hard They Might Pull a Putin

During these last few weeks, the people in the villages and towns on the East End have been rising up in a chorus of voices to declare that they’ve had enough of the terrible racket the planes and helicopters make flying in and out of East Hampton Airport—helicopter landings and takeoffs were up 40 percent this summer over last—and that once and for all restrictions need to be placed on how many planes are allowed in each day, and that a curfew is needed so there are certain times after dark when no aircraft be will allowed in at all.

Resolutions have been passed by Town and Village boards up and down the East End, all urging East Hampton Town, which owns the airport, to take these actions—something East Hampton Town wants to do, except for the fact that they fear the federal aviation agency. According to their reading of the rules, all things that East Hampton wants to do must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Think of East Hampton as Ukraine. Think of the FAA as Russia. It’s the same thing as is going on over there.For years, Russia has controlled what Ukraine can do. There were no official laws like there are here, though. Russia would control Ukraine by giving them a cheap rate to buy Russian oil—unless Ukraine didn’t do what Russia wanted. Then the price went up fourfold until Ukraine calmed down.

We all know that Ukraine finally couldn’t take it anymore. Last November, they tried to sign a pact with the European Union. Up went the oil prices. When the Ukranian president backed down, the people rioted and threw him out. Russia then seized the Crimea. (Think Georgica.) And Russia is trying to seize eastern Ukraine. (Think Amagansett.) This is a dangerous game.

What will happen if East Hampton Town acts to do something? Though East Hampton owns the airport, it is partially funded by the FAA, so that gives the right to approve or deny East Hampton’s decisions.

Or does it? A few weeks ago, an attorney named Peter Kirsch, who has been on the town payroll for nearly 10 years, said he thinks the town will be able to make such changes as creating curfews and cutting back on flights without FAA approval—once 2015 arrives.

The thing that will change is that East Hampton will begin renouncing various FAA grant obligations. The Town has 39 such obligations. Four of them are set to expire on December 31, 2014. It’s true that the other 35 remain in place until 2021, but the Town has started a trend. They are divesting themselves of the FAA. Someday they will run the airport privately. Other airports are private—they don’t use the FAA, and they don’t have the consequent obligations.

Kirsch, who was in East Hampton the week before Labor Day to discuss the issue, said in an interview with The Independent that it is his opinion that with the writing on the wall, the situation has changed. With the expiration at the end of December, the FAA will have no say. East Hampton won’t even have to make a case.

Or would they? In the Ukranian situation, at the present time, a truce is in place so everybody can talk. But the battle line, separated by a 10-mile wide no-fight zone, is entirely on Ukrainian soil. Meanwhile, sanctions are in place against Russia, applied by the Europeans and the United States.

Could East Hampton ban travel for FAA officials? Could East Hampton ban travel for certain billionaires with screaming jets? Could the FAA bring in federal troops and divide the airport in two, with a buffer between the two sides? One does not know.

Going it alone without the FAA has considerable risk. But take a lesson from this country’s founding fathers—they took the risk and went ahead. If they had lost, they would have hung as traitors. But it worked out. As Nike says, just do it.

Hurrah for East Hampton.

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