Helicopters thunder across the sky. Corporate jets scream as they come down into their approaches. Twin-engine private planes howl as they bank into their turns. For 25 years now, residents of the East End who live around the East Hampton airport have suffered and complained about the noise these aircraft make as, every year, it becomes worse and worse. Nothing ever gets done. Until now.
Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the ongoing battle about noise at the airport is going to come to an end, thanks to a contest put forward by Miriam Randolph, a seventh grade teacher at Wainscott Junior High School, and the 13-year-old winner of that contest, Brendan Hickcock.
“I just got so tired of all the fighting about the airport,” Ms. Randolph said. “The lawsuits, the demonstrations, the edicts, the curfew proposals, the ordinances, the noise complaints and the plan to shut the airport down, well, it made my head spin. And I don’t even live near the airport.”
Ms. Randolph presented the contest to her entire class. What would solve the noise crisis at the airport? Every kid put forward an essay, and the winner was Brendan Hickcock, who lives with his sister, his mom and his dad on Beach Lane. Ms. Randolph thought his essay, “Happy Wow,” was such a win-win that she put it in a folder and went out after school and on weekends to show it one at a time to every organization involved in the ongoing airport problem.
Each of these organizations—including the Eastern Regional Aircraft Council, the East Hampton Helicopter Pilots Association, the Town of East Hampton, the Sagaponack Dark Skies Organization, the East End Charter Airline Association, the members of Say Heck No to KHTO (the call letters of the airport) which wants the airport to be shut down entirely, the Federal Aviation Association, the Airports of America Agenda, the Village of Wainscott, the Seaplane Fellows of Suffolk County and the East Hampton Airport Maintenance Union—declared their support of Brendan’s plan, and at a huge meeting with all leaders of these groups in the Wainscott High School Auditorium last week, voted unanimously to put this plan into effect beginning Friday, May 22, 2020.
There will be no more specific routes that planes and choppers are supposed to follow, which their pilots agree to and then violate anyway. Aircraft coming out from New York, or leaving East Hampton bound for New York, will be free to fly any way they prefer, at any time of day or night they prefer, making whatever noise they want, and flying at whatever height they want, without restriction or objection.
But “Happy Wow” will now take place. Before an aircraft can take off heading to or from East Hampton, the stewards on board will walk down the aisle and collect from each passenger $100 in cash, stuffing it into a plastic bag as they go past. This is an acceptable amount where tickets on a helicopter generally cost about $1,100 a seat (and most folks have ATM 20s). As the aircraft prepares to take off, the plastic bag will be sealed, and when the aircraft gets to about 500 feet above a residential East End neighborhood, the co-pilot will receive the bag, open a side cockpit window and toss it out into the air. The bag will plummet down to some random spot—into a potato field, a front lawn, a woods, a meadow, a vineyard, a cucumber patch, a school grounds, a park, the roof of a home, a swimming pool or a country store—and people will run to where it and other bags land and take them home.
May 22 will mark the beginning of a windfall that will continue for the rest of the year for the long-suffering but now extremely happy people on the ground, who will in the end use the cash for whatever purpose they like. A gift from the heavens.
With approximately 150 landings and takeoffs every day, this will be a huge windfall for those folks. Screams of joy and shouts of excitement will accompany the roar overhead. These local residents can put a wing on their house, pave their driveways, refurnish their interiors, pay their credit card bills, send their children to college, pay for weddings and bar mitzvahs, enjoy a trip to a resort or just pack up and move away, although, well, that would certainly appear to be counterproductive.
Meanwhile, the passengers up in the sky will know that all this terrible noise their aircraft is making to save an hour of their precious time will directly benefit those below who they have caused to suffer. And the amount, which Brendan referred to in his winning entry as an apology, is not so terrible.
The locals will be picking up these bags of cash that land at their feet, up in a tree, over in a field. There won’t be any fighting over any of it, because with every hour that passes, there will be more of it. It will just be one happy ongoing delight, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And there are others who benefit. The aircraft charter companies are happy because this little gesture is getting them so much new publicity, the demand for new business is going through the roof.
The airport workers and managers are happy because they will no longer fear being laid off if the airport were to be closed.
The FAA is happy because this ends what has been for a long time a thorn in their side.
Even the merchants and grocery store owners who Ms. Randolph spoke to are happy to get rid of their plastic bags, now leftovers, since they were banned from use since the beginning of March. This is a terrific solution for those leftovers.
The only people unhappy, it seems, are the State of New York and the IRS, who feel they may be unable to learn which individual taxpayers to levy income taxes against, because it’s really just finders-keepers-losers-weepers.
As for Brendan, he got to be the first to hold up the grand prize trophy Ms. Randolph bought for the competition. After he waved it around, the rest of the class got to hold it and wave it around, because in that classroom all the students are winners Let the fun begin!