By Stephen J. Kotz
A new Federal Aviation Administration rule could spell trouble for East Hampton Town and its efforts to regulate helicopter traffic at the town airport, according to a press release issued on Monday by Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the town board’s liaison to the airport.
This week, the press release stated, the FAA announced that it was creating a new category, Stage 3, for helicopters. The designation refers to the most modern aircraft, which meet stricter noise standards.
The problem for the town is that because it is has accepted FAA grants in the past and is still beholden to the restrictions of those grants, it cannot restrict when those helicopters are allowed to land or take off without FAA approval.
Currently, the town is allowed to regulate, without FAA approval, the operations of helicopters that are classified as Stage 1 or Stage 2. Those aircraft do not meet the same noise standards as the more modern helicopters, but manufacturers will be allowed to have such aircraft recertified as Stage 3 provided they can meet the more stringent noise standards.
“This new rule is enormously significant for the Town of East Hampton,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said in the release. “For years, the town has been advised that it could restrict operations on Stage 1 and 2 helicopters without FAA approval.”
“The FAA has now imposed an additional hurdle for grant-obligated airports,” she added.
But Kathy Cunningham, the chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said the saw the glass as half full.
“If all helicopters, perish the thought, were certified as Stage 3, it would be impossible for airports that are under federal grants to regulate them,” she said. “This will encourage the town to let the grant assurances expire” at the end of the year.
Ms. Cunningham said if the town was to do extract itself from the grip of the FAA, which she called a “rogue agency—they can make up whatever rules they like”—it would be able to impose some meaningful restrictions on airport traffic of all kinds.
“The tide is beginning to turn,” she said, “because there are more and more helicopters coming in,” and helicopters have the most “disturbing” noise patterns.”