Twenty years ago, on a Friday night and under a full moon, I went out onto the beach, set out a blanket and looked up at the sky to watch some of my wealthy friends in the Hamptons fly into East Hampton for the weekend. It was about 9 p.m. Here they came, first a quiet buzz from the west and a dot and finally a small plane, coming across the sky to lazily circle around and land gently at the airport five miles behind me.
I wrote about it. I knew the planes. Here comes the Bush family, here come the Smiths, the Hardings. I wasn’t exactly sure I was looking at them. There might be others that had the same color plane or same configurations of the engines. But it was something to write about. The summer people of privilege had arrived.
Today, in a different era, there’s a new way to find out who is coming in and out. A friend showed me this. Go to airnoisereport.com. This site tracks not the few dozen wealthy people who came into the airport 30 years ago, but the hundreds and hundreds of well-to-do people who come in every weekend and terrify the residential community around the airport with noisy helicopters that go pocketa pocketa pocketa and circle around until they get the go-ahead to land. On this website, if you hear a chattering helicopter or aircraft up close and personal, you press a button that says COMPLAINT and the site refreshes itself. It shows your location nearby to the airport, and then it shows the aircraft that is closest to you in the sky, identifying it by tail number, number of feet it is off the ground, and, if you have another website set up where you can find the owner of a plane by its tail number, you’ll know who owns it.
A complaint is automatically filed because you have pressed the button. And off that complaint goes to the East Hampton Airport manager or some other official. At the end of the day, they can tell you if the plane or helicopter was flying too low or off-course and, theoretically anyway, somebody could give it a ticket.
It’s sort of like the surveillance they have set up at bridge toll booths where if you don’t pay they’ve got you, or if you don’t pay but have set it up to pay if you appear, they charge your credit card automatically.
Except in this case, nothing comes of it. Eventually, the complaints wind up on the desk at the FAA. They probably don’t care about the noise. I imagine they slip the complaint into the round trash basket or, if it’s on a computer, the picture of the round trash basket on the screen.
The FAA doesn’t care. But it’s fun to do. And you get to feel better.