On Monday morning, between 6:20 and 7:20 a.m., Kathy Cunningham recorded 13 different planes, jets and helicopters flying over her Northwest Woods home either arriving at or departing from The East Hampton Airport.
Then four minutes later, another six flew overhead.
For Cunningham and other residents on flight paths in and out of East Hampton Airport, Fourth of July weekend is not just about celebrating the nation’s independence with family barbeques and down time at the beach. It is also a weekend marked by the sound of aircraft flying overhead, conversations drowned out — and, as Cunningham joked on Tuesday, a lot of yoga breathing to deal with that reality.
However, East Hampton Town officials and airport manager Jim Brundidge hope the installation of a seasonal air traffic control tower, as well as two flight paths in and out of airport, will provide some relief for residents while also increasing safety at the airport. The tower is expected to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for operation by this weekend.
According to East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the seasonal air traffic control tower will be staffed by two controllers and will be able to monitor aircraft using the airport between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
On Monday, Stanzione, the East Hampton Town Board’s liaison to the airport, said the FAA’s certification team was expected to be at the airport reviewing the facility and ideally would give its blessing for the control tower to operate by Friday.
The FAA has given the airport a new Class D air space designation, added Stanzione, in anticipation of the opening of the seasonal air traffic control tower. This classification, said Stanzione, creates a five-mile radius of controlled airspace around the airport that air traffic controllers will have authority over within 2,500 feet of altitude.
“This change represents years worth of work by a dedicated team of people on the town, county, state and federal level,” said Stanzione.
“I think technically speaking, and this is important to understand, the principal function of the tower is to improve safety,” added Stanzione. “The ancillary impact of having controlled airspace that is managed could very well impact noise. Whether or not that will be found in the data we collect is a question yet to be discerned.”
As a part of a Comprehensive Airport Management and Noise Abatement plan, Stanzione noted a noise study would be conducted, partially through complaints logged at the town’s noise abatement hotline at 537-LOUD.
For Brundige, getting the tower up this weekend is an important step for the airport and one he only wishes could have happened earlier in the season.
“Our season really starts Memorial Day so we were hoping to try and get it started then, but it just took a little longer than we hoped,” he said on Tuesday. “Every weekend is important to us.”
“We have about 30,000 operations at the airport each year,” continued Brundige. “Most of it occurs in the summer months so it is important when you have this volume of air traffic for safety purposes and for noise to have controlled airspace around the airport. All of the pilots here are in favor of this and say it is long overdue.”
Brundige said with two arrival and departure routes into the airport and voluntary noise abatement procedures air traffic controllers will help enforce, he is hopeful it will have an impact on noise.
“The pilots are pretty good about adhering to the altitudes we set,” he said. “They want to be good neighbors. They see the ramifications of not complying and generally, pilots are a very disciplined group.”
For Cunningham, who is the chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, what impact this will have on her quality of life and others plagued by the noise of air traffic remains to be seen.
“We are hopeful,” she said on Tuesday. “Guardedly optimistic would be another way to put it, but there is really no way for us to know. Having the air traffic controllers guiding flights in and out of the airport will certainly make it safer but one of the concerns we have is we don’t know what kind of noise mitigation plan those controllers will implement. We just will have to see how it works.”
Her organization is also not clear on what kind of access it will be granted to the data the town collects through the tower and through its noise abatement hotline.
“We would like to work cooperatively in this effort,” said Cunningham.
Personally, she keeps a logbook that she periodically enters into the town’s system and encourages other residents to log any noise complaints they have.
“The noise complaint hotline is founded on the idea if there are no calls there is no noise event,” said Cunningham. “There is a proactive element to complaining that people are reluctant about. It is a flawed tool, but it is the only one we have so we would be foolish not to do it. More than one person has to do this. I have been telling people they should consider it part of their civic responsibility.”