Loud Noises in the Air: The Concorde, EH Airport and the Wellington Aero Club

A British Airways Concorde would upset a lot of people at East Hampton Airport
A British Airways Concorde would upset a lot of people at East Hampton Airport
Mike Segar

The loudest noise I ever heard in the sky happened whenever a Concorde decelerated through the sound barrier low over the Hamptons as it came in to land at John F. Kennedy International Airport. There’d be a brief hum and then a horrendous window-rattling crack. It left a ringing in your ears.

For those who are too young to remember Concorde, here’s a primer. Concorde was a commercial airliner built by manufacturers in Great Britain and France that flew supersonic flights for 27 years beginning in 1976 between JFK and either London or Paris. At 1,354 miles an hour, it could save four hours on the usual seven-hour flight, appealing to the super rich whose precious four hours was easily worth $4,181 one way in extra airfare. Concorde carried up to 128 passengers.

Many had objected to Concorde for environmental reasons, but we here in the Hamptons had been promised that the deceleration bang would take place over the ocean before it got to Montauk. On the other hand, about once every two months, a pilot would forget to press the deceleration button in time. (It was possible to save an extra five or six minutes to do it later than earlier.) So the mistake sometimes happened.

In those days, good people envied the fortunate few who flew Concorde. A perk for the rich. Maybe someday I could fly in one.

One day in 2000, a Concorde taking off from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris hit debris on the runway and exploded, killing all on board. That was the end of that: Concorde’s final flight was in 2003. Surviving Concordes today are in museums.

I mention this because as East Hampton Airport moves toward limiting the aircraft that can go in and out due to the excessive noise they make, I wanted to put in a good word for the billionaires who fly their personal big jets into East Hampton. Noisy, yes. But there are only a few that do that. And their aircraft are so graceful and gorgeous.

The fact is that the number of aircraft that fly in and out of East Hampton every year is the same as flew in and out in 2000. It’s just that now half of them are very unpleasant helicopters. On any summer’s day, helicopters noisily land and take off almost every hour. It’s terrible. Big personal jets? Maybe on average one flight a day.

Hooray for the super rich, I say. And their 200-foot yachts (which can, when in a slip, block a stroller’s personal view of the water.)

I mention all this because we need our billionaires as this airport reorganization unfolds. The strategy of our current town officials — and they own East Hampton Airport — is to shut it down on February 28 and then on March 4, four days later, reopen it as a town-owned private airport. As a public airport, the town cannot control unlimited growth at the airport. As a private airport, they can.

The naysayers say that in closing the airport on February 28, so much paperwork will need to happen to allow it to reopen as a private facility it could not possibly be reopened until maybe two years from now instead of four days. So really this is a fool’s errand.

Nobody disputes that the equipment being used at the airport today is completely adequate and superior to anything that could ever be needed for a less busy private airport. It’s just that getting things rubber stamped and approved will take huge amounts of time by the paper pushers. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how it will be, even though the town promises to use the good stuff until the other stuff comes along.

Let me tell you something, if a billionaire on the ocean in the Hamptons one evening says he wants a particular kind of lemonade only made in small batches and served at a particular country inn in Northern California, people will have it on his dining room table when he comes down in his robe for breakfast the next day.

Now imagine there are 23 oceanfront billionaires in the Hamptons with big private jets who will be shocked if there is no East Hampton Airport. Do they want to have the airport closed because of the paper pushers for two years? I think not. I think proper federal officials will be successfully leaned upon to have it back open in four days. After which the Town will be able to cut back the number of flights to a reasonable amount, which is what they repeatedly have said is all that they want to do.

This is a win-win situation.

And here’s something else. You probably know by now that Dan’s Papers has opened a winter edition in Palm Beach. As a result, I have been writing a column in it and took on the assignment of writing about Wellington Aero Club in West Palm Beach County.

I haven’t written it yet, but I’ve done the research. Do you know that it’s always necessary for a wealthy estate owner to have a private six-car garage, a tennis court, a swimming pool, an English garden and, in some cases, a pitch-and-putt golf course on their property?  Well, there’s a group of about 250 homeowners who live in Palm Beach County that in addition to those trappings have a personal hangar attached to their homes in which they can park their own private airplane.

These folks all live alongside a 4,000-foot-long communally owned private runway. Any day, at their pleasure, they can fire up their aircraft, taxi it out to the end of the runway, and fly off over the traffic to anywhere they desire.

The Aero Club includes a beautiful jointly owned clubhouse where the members can hold weddings or other social events or just play billiards and cards or sit in a dining room and have a meal. Did I mention there is a bar?

The Aero Club takes up 500 acres. East Hampton Airport is 600 acres. I say, giving it all a little thought, that in addition to the reduced aircraft activity, have an Aero Club. The sky’s the limit.

And no lawsuits, please. If they were to happen and if they led to an injunction, all they will do is close the airport for a long time or perhaps forever. And nobody who flies wants that to happen.

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