The Town of East Hampton appears poised to revive a previously failed attempt to restrict the types of aircraft that fly in and out of the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott.
Of the options that a town consultant laid out before the council, the majority of the board signaled they preferred temporarily closing the airport in order to convert the facility from public use to private use, which would pave the way for enacting new restrictions, officials said.
“It’ll still stay a publicly owned airport, but it won’t be open generally to the public, it will be a private airport usable only with permission from the town,” William O’Connor, an aviation attorney with the law firm of Cooley LLP, told the board during its work session on October 19. He noted that the change would allow the town to enact curfews and aircraft size limits, but it is unclear exactly how long the airport would need to shutter for the switch to occur.
All eyes have been on the issue since its Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances expired in September, lifting limits on the town’s ability to potentially close the airport or issue new rules.
Airport proponents maintain that closing the airport would negatively affect the local economy. Critics argue that the airport needs to be closed to resolve noise complaints and environmental issues. The town, which appears to be taking a middle road, was previously prohibited by a federal court ruling from enacting limits on aircraft at the airport in a bid to address neighbors’ concerns.
“Efforts to limit the hours of operation, the size of aircraft, and what kind of fuels can be used have all failed repeatedly in the past,” said Coalition to Transform East Hampton Airport (CTA) Director Barry Raebeck. “What is different now?”
Erin King-Sweeny, executive director of the pro-airport East Hampton Community Alliance, welcomed the news.
“EHCA is heartened by the fact that the Town Board has publicly committed to the long-term future of East Hampton Airport,” she said. “It is clear that the overwhelming majority of residents support finding reasonable solutions while maintaining the economic and life-saving viability of HTO. EHCA is hopeful that temporary closure of the airport is not necessary to achieve these goals.”
It’s unclear when the town may vote to make such a change, as several studies on the issue are ongoing. The most recent study, released in September, found that closing the airport would force its more than 9,000 annual flights to be diverted to four surrounding East End facilities: Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, airfields in Montauk and Mattituck, and a helipad in Southampton Village.