Dan Rattiner's Stories

Selma & Helicopters: East Hampton Airport Pilots Seek Rights

I saw the movie Selma the other day coming out from New York City on the Hampton Jitney Ambassador. It’s a great movie and in many ways, it reminds me of goings on at the East Hampton Airport. You could make a movie about the airport story. In both movies, people seek freedom. In Selma the people are the downtrodden African-Americans, protesting for their rights. And at the East Hampton Airport, it’s the helicopter people protesting for their rights.

There are some differences, of course.

In Selma, it’s about the right to vote. Here in East Hampton, it’s about the inalienable rights of pilots to land and takeoff helicopters wherever and whenever they want, which is what they do now.

In the movie Selma, there is this bridge, the Edmund W. Pettus Bridge, which the demonstrators want to cross to enter downtown Selma. But Martin Luther King is away in California making a speech, so the police and local vigilantes feel free to just beat up the freedom fighters with clubs and baseball bats and sticks. It gets all bloody. Martin Luther King comes home outraged.

In East Hampton, the locals pass laws taking away helicopter rights. Choppers can only land and take off between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Noisy helicopters are only allowed into town once a week. So the freedom-fighting helicopter people cross the Montauk Highway and file a lawsuit asking a judge for a temporary injunction so the local laws can’t go into effect. Then they appeal to the FAA. Martin Luther King goes to Washington to meet with President Lyndon Johnson. That’s the same thing as the helicopter people meeting with the FAA.

Martin Luther King asks the President to send in federal troops to keep the locals from beating up his people. President Johnson says, “Now look Martin, I’ve got my own problems here in Washington and I’m doing the best I can so why don’t you back off and just stop provoking them.”

King says, “But sir, people are dying.” Johnson then just pats King on the back and says he’s sure it will work out. Just relax a bit.

In the East Hampton Airport movie, the head of the helicopter people meets with the head of the FAA and says join us. Send a letter to the Judge. And the head of the FAA says now look, why don’t you just stop provoking the locals, coming in low with those helicopters of yours, revving the engines at all hours of the day and night. Just stop keeping everybody up, why don’t you?

And the head of the Helicopter people says: “Mr. FAA, the locals are sweeping away our freedom to land whenever we want. Today it’s don’t land at night. Next it will be don’t land ever. When will this end? Send the letter to the judge, sir.”

The FAA guy says now look, I’ve got helicopter problems all over America to contend with. Just try it my way, step back a bit. Work with the locals.

In Selma, finally, the day comes when President Johnson says the African-Americans have their rights and the locals just can’t take them away. And he sends in the National Guard. Then the protesters get to cross the Edmund W. Pettus Bridge. The End.

In East Hampton, Hip Hip Hooray! the FAA sends the letter to the Judge. Stop the madness.

I am writing this on May 18. The judge is supposed to decide on June 8. If she rules against the locals, then the freedom to take off and land is preserved. Helicopters come in from all over. It’s a 110-decibel party at midnight. The credits roll.

Of course, if the judge rules in favor of the locals, it kind of ruins the movie. You can’t end with the helicopter people saying well we lost the battle, but not the war. These petty dictators will see it’s not over yet.

That’s why Selma got an Academy Award and Free the Helicopters hasn’t even been made yet.

Join Dan for an Airport Picnic at the end of the East Hampton Airport runway (east side of Daniel’s Hole Road) on Friday, May 22 at 6 p.m.

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