Tag Archive | "Federal Aviation Administration"

Aviation Enthusiasts, Charter Companies File Two Complaints

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By Mara Certic

Just days before the East Hampton Board was scheduled to discuss draft legislation to impose for the first time restrictions at East Hampton Airport in an attempt to reduce noise complaints, an organization of aviation advocates and business owners has taken two legal steps it says are aimed at preserving equal access to the airport.

The coalition filed suit on Thursday, January 29, in federal District Court against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its administrator, Michael Huerta, and challenges the settlement in 2005 of a case involving airport opponents. The second complaint was made to the FAA—asking it to direct the town to complete work to close what it calls “critical safety and security gaps at the airport.”

The Friends of the East Hampton Airport coalition comprises small local businesses, aviation experts, business leaders and national aviation advocates. In addition to the Friends of the East Hampton Airport, four New York City-based helicopter charter companies, one jet charter company and the Helicopter Association International are listed as co-plaintiffs.

“Our coalition is eager to work with the town, the FAA and our fellow residents to help resolve complaints related to noise, but we won’t do it in a way that compromises safety or violates federal law,” Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a press release issued on Thursday.

The first complaint filed by the coalition on Thursday is asking the court to determine that the FAA lacked the authority in a settlement agreement in 2005 to waive commitments East Hampton Town made when it accepted FAA funding. That decision has been interpreted by the current town government as meaning as of the first of the year it is free to impose use restrictions, such as curfews, at the airport.

In 2001, the town received a $1.4 million grant from the FAA, which normally, would have required the town to enforce certain commitments (called grant assurances,) for 20 years. It was later determined that the grant was acquired for guidelines and projects included in the 1996 airport master plan, which had never formally been adopted by the town board.

In a 2005 settlement with the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion, the FAA agreed not to enforce the grant restrictions related to the town’s proprietary power over the airport after December 31, 2014.

The coalition maintains the FAA has been inconsistent and mentioned a recent case involving the Santa Monica Airport in California, where the FAA stated that it “may not by agreement waive its statutory enforcement jurisdiction over future cases.”

“The coalition said that the inconsistency in the FAA’s position must be resolved quickly, because the town is actively considering the imposition of discriminatory restrictions as to the times, number and type of aircraft that can access the airport now that the FAA has putatively stopped enforcing the equal access assurances,” reads a press release issued by the coalition on Thursday.

“They’re still peddling this tired conspiracy theory that the town’s trying to shut down the airport,” said Pat Trunzo, a former town board member and one of the members of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion.

Mr. Trunzo said he does not believe the suit will go too far, and that there isn’t really much question as to whether the FAA had the authority to waive the town’s commitments.

The noise subcommittee has been very careful when formulating how it phrases its recommendations, according to Mr. Trunzo, which, he said, led him to believe any challenges are unlikely to be fruitful.

“Any challenges to the town adopting a nighttime curfew are looking at equally dim prospects of success,” he said.

The second complaint asks the FAA to direct the town to address several safety and security issues the coalition says have long been ignored. Some of the improvements include replacing the lighting system, building a deer fence and removing some “hazardous obstructions,” including trees.

According to Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, many of the “ safety and security issues” brought up in the coalition’s complaint have been subject to town resolutions in the past year and have already been bonded for, and some have been completed.

An engineer is currently creating plans for deer fencing for the airport, and specs for an automated airport weather station are being drawn up in time for it to be installed before summer, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said.

“Despite claims by the board that the town can fund the airport and its maintenance without FAA grants, the board is contemplating arbitrary and discriminatory aircraft restrictions that would drastically reduce airport traffic during peak months, slashing the airport’s revenue and further depriving the airport of desperately needed safety and security improvements,” the coalition release states.

Last December, members of the airport finance subcommittee presented a report on airport revenue, which concluded that even if FAA funding was eliminated and the number of helicopters was reduced by half, the airport is in good financial shape.

Several revenue enhancements, including a paid parking system and some property rentals, could create even more income for the town, according to the budget committee.

Committee Says Airport Can Stand on its Own

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By Stephen J. Kotz

Members of East Hampton’s budget and financial advisory committee dropped a bit of a bombshell on Tuesday when they told the town board that the town would be able to continue operating the airport for the foreseeable future without accepting additional funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Whether the town could afford to maintain the facility without federal largesse has long been a bone of contention, with airport supporters saying the grants are needed to maintain the airport and opponents saying the town will not be able to control the facility as long as it continues accepting federal aid and the restrictions that come with it.

“Some people held the conclusion that the airport would fall apart if you did not take FAA money. This report disproves that,” said Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who nonetheless added he would not close the door on the possibility the town would need FAA funding in the future.

“Clearly, your financial analysis shows we can move forward at least in the immediate and interim future, that we can finance the airport, that we can keep it safe, and that we can make the improvements that are absolutely necessary and do that for some period of time without taking FAA money,” he said.

The report was presented to the board by Arthur Malman, the chairman of the budget advisory committee, and Peter Wadsworth, one of its authors, who told the board the airport will be able to generate enough cash flow to adequately cover its long term debt servicing needs.

Both men stressed that the group that worked on the report represented a cross-section of airport supporters and opponents and had reached their conclusion unanimously.

In compiling the report, the committee assumed varying scenarios, ranging from no changes in airport traffic to one in which there were no helicopter flights. They also assumed that the town could realize modest revenue growth by raising fees to offset expected increases in expenses.

The scenario is even more rosy, Mr. Wadsworth said, if the town takes advantage of a number of options to enhance revenue from the airport. Among the options the committee found beside raising landing fees and fuel charges include requiring paid parking, renegotiating hangar leases, possibly adding additional hangars, developing 15 vacant lots on Industrial Road as well as the potential for developing a massive solar farm on the northern end of the airport.

Mr. Malman added that the airport property encompasses some 600 acres, with much of it zoned for industrial uses, which is in high demand. He added, though, that any development schemes would require careful analysis by the town’s planning and natural resources departments.

He added that the town has the potential to turn the airport into a major source of revenue, when the last of the FAA grant restrictions expire in 2022. Because of those restrictions, any revenue raised at the airport must be spent there. But after they expire, the town would be able to use operating surpluses to reduce taxes.

“It may become a very significant source of nontax revenue,” he said. “The bad news is there has to be a little thought given as to how you set this thing up” to make sure the airport properly maintained.

Over 30 Protesters Picket at the East Hampton Airport Friday

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East Hampton Airport Protest

By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Laurie Barone-Schaefer

The Quiet Skies Coalition (QSC), an organization dedicated to addressing quality of life issues stemming from the East Hampton Airport, conducted a demonstration at the East Hampton Airport on Daniels Hole Road in Wainscott last Friday evening. The event drew more than 30 residents and QSC members from Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Springs, Wainscott and Noyac.

Residents carried signs, stood along Daniels Hole Road and at the tarmac exit hoping to raise the awareness of passengers and pilots that aircraft noise, particularly from helicopters, jets and seaplanes, has created a problem for some East End residents, said QSC chairwoman Kathy Cunningham in a press release issued Monday.

New to the protest this year were Rebecca Young and Bill Pickens of Sag Harbor Hills who, along with residents of Azurest and Ninevah and Merchants Path, are shouldering the biggest aircraft noise burden as a result of the new departure route brokered by the East Hampton Town Board to relieve the doubling of helicopter noise over Noyac last summer.

“The air traffic over our neighborhood has increased so much that it has negatively impacted our quality of life. We’d consider selling the house but this air traffic has decreased the value of our home,” said Becky Young.

“Route distribution is a losing strategy,” said Cunningham, “as the basic choice is to decide into which of your neighbor’s yards your going to throw your trash. Without meaningful access limits, someone is always going to be victimized by uncontrolled aircraft noise.”

“The only effective noise mitigation plan is to limit access to East Hampton Airport,” continued Cunningham. “In 16 short months, the East Hampton Town Board will legally be able to create reasonable aircraft noise policy by imposing curfews, limits on numbers and concentrations of flights and banning the noisiest aircraft altogether.”

The Quiet Skies Coalition will soon be publicizing results of town board candidates survey on airport noise issues.