Amateur pilots and commercial aviators alike descended on a local airport Sunday as news broke of a plan to turn the small public transportation hub into a private flying facility. Police were on hand to keep an eye on the protesters in case tempers flared.
At issue for the demonstrators was the plan announced last week for a group of wealthy investors, led by billionaire Whitney Ogden Oates III, to buy the airport (which is currently owned by the municipality) and to make it into an exclusive “gentlemen’s flying club.”
According to plans leaked to the media and published over the weekend, the group of investors has plans to limit membership of the new club to “only those local families who can prove that one or more of their grandfathers owned aircraft and operated them in the Hamptons.”
Protesters say this so-called “Grandfather Rule” would severely restrict access to the club and render the airport the “plaything of an elite class of privileged airplane hobbyists,” forcing many local aviation services to go out of business.
“This is just outrageous,” said one commercial pilot who was on hand for the demonstration and who preferred to remain anonymous. “It’s just the latest example of the wealthy people coming in and claiming all the marbles for themselves. My grandfathers could barely afford a Dodge Dart, let alone a private plane, and here you have Whitney Oates saying that means I can’t use the airport? I think you know where he can stick that!”
Oates, who appeared under heavy guard at the protest to defend his group’s proposals, was dismissive of such arguments.
“My grandfather Whitney owned a fleet of Lockheed Constellations and was able to fly his friends and family to and from this area—they called it ‘Oaty Air,’ but of course it was just for laughs—and I’d like to be able to do the same for my friends without having to vie for space with other planes. I don’t understand what all of this fuss is about.”
The protests broke up late Sunday without incident.