By Mara Certic
If the East Hampton Airport Planning Committee’s noise subcommittee get its way, strict curfews, limits on weekly operations and a complete ban on the loudest helicopters could be in effect by Memorial Day of this year.
Those were among the key recommendations made by the group to the town board in its final report, which was delivered on Tuesday, January 21.
The subcommittee, which is made up of members of the community on the East End who say they have suffered from airport noise, has held bimonthly meetings since it was formed early last year, to discuss the best way to tackle what many say is a decades-old problem.
David Gruber, chairman of the subcommittee, presented the recommendations to the town board.
“Noise due to aircraft has vexed this community for 30 years,” Mr. Gruber said, adding that the community has consistently asked the airport remain small and recreational, and that it not be allowed to be expanded into a busy commercial airport.
The first two phases of an independent noise analysis study contracted by the town were presented at the end of last year and corroborated much of what the anti-noise community had been saying for years: They are most bothered by aircraft arriving late at night and early in the morning and especially when there is a high frequency of flights, such as on busy summer weekends.
The analyses, the last of which will be presented on Tuesday, February 3, provided much of the basis for the noise committee’s suggestions.
The group’s proposal, which was endorsed by the Quiet Skies Coalition in a press release distributed on Tuesday afternoon, first recommends aircraft be rated into three categories: noisiest, noisy and quiet.
The noisiest aircraft tend to be helicopters and jets, while the quietest ones tend to be aircraft flown by recreational pilots. According to the Quiet Skies Coalition, this demonstrates the subcommittee’s “support for continued unlimited access to the airport by local pilots.”
According to flight information determined by Vector Reports, only 27 percent of the airport’s fleet, both those based there and those that visit, would fall into the noisiest category.
The noisiest aircraft, however, account for 54 percent of all landings at the airport.
The committee then proposed a number of restrictions based on those three categories.
The first is that operations by the noisiest types of aircraft (which measure in at more than 91 decibels) would be prohibited from 5 p.m. until 9 a.m. every day and be restricted to conducting just one trip per week, year-round. These noisiest aircraft would also be subjected to a noise pollution surcharge during summer weekends and holidays.
The noisiest helicopters would be banned entirely. According to Mr. Gruber, the three most popular types of helicopters, the Sikorsky S-76, the Airbus Helicopters Écureuil, and the Airbus Helicopters TwinStar, account for two- thirds of all helicopter operations at the airport. They all also would be classified as the noisiest type and would be banned, under the rules. At 95.6 decibels, the Sikorsky helicopters are the loudest regularly using the airport.
The aircraft classified as merely noisy would only be subjected to a late curfew, and would not be allowed to land or take off after 7 p.m. or before 8 a.m.
“We believe it is time for the town to ask all airport users to employ the best and quietest aviation,” Mr. Gruber said, adding that there are many quiet alternatives available for all different kinds of aircraft.
“Helicopters in the Noisy (but not Noisiest) class, that would therefore be subject only to a late curfew, include the Eurocopter EC-155, the Eurocopter EC-120 Colibri, and the MD Helicopters MD600,” Mr. Gruber said.
“Of 13,000 landing operations last year, two-thirds were by commercial operators,” Mr. Gruber said. The remaining third, Mr. Gruber said, the local recreational pilots, would only be affected by the new curfew rule, as their aircraft tend to be the quietest.
“Local aviators have never been the problem,” former Town Councilman, noise subcommittee member and member of the Quiet Skies Coalition Pat Trunzo said in a press release from the Quiet Skies Coalition.
“Noise complaint data coupled with the proposed noise emissions categorization support that,” he added.
Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesperson for the Friends of the East Hampton Airport released the following statement:
“While we had hoped the committee would offer new ideas that could generate a meaningful debate, instead they offered a set of old proposals that are ultimately aimed at closing the airport. Enacting these plans will severely impact local businesses and the local economy and create a huge gap in the town budget that taxpayers will ultimately have to make up for with higher property taxes. Rather than trying to close the airport, we should be working together to find common-sense solutions that protect our community’s access to aviation and the economic benefits that the airport provides.”
Also during Tuesday’s work session, Barry Holden, one of just three Southampton Town residents on the airport noise subcommittee, submitted a petition with more than 700 signatures to the town, echoing the recommendations of his group.
HMMH, the company conducting phase three of the noise analysis, will present its findings to the board on February 3. The firm will also present its recommended legislation which “may or may not be based on the noise committee’s recommendation,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said on Tuesday.
The East Hampton Town Board had a special meeting in executive session on Wednesday, January 21, with their attorneys and outside counsel to discuss both pending and potential litigation related to the airport, Mr. Cantwell said.