Where We Stand
Jim Brundige,left, and Matt O'Brien
Several years ago the town appointed an Airport Noise Abatement Committee that meets monthly at the airport, Kathy Cunningham its conscientious and competent chairman. Peter Hammerle is liaison with the town board although, in fact, the committee has had minimal contact with the board. Airport noise remains a serious problem but the committee can point to certain achievements largely due to the efforts of Jim Brundige, our exceedingly capable airport manager who attends all committee meetings. He is a former military pilot and United Airlines captain.
Although the town owns the extremely valuable 600 plus acres that is the airport its management of the airport especially noise control is severely limited by the FAA. A major responsibility of the FAA is to encourage development of the aviation industry. Consequently the FAA promotes airport expansion by paying for a substantial percentage of the cost of airport expansion. When East Hampton built its existing terminal building and later rebuilt its main runway known as 10/28 to jet standards the FAA picked up 80% or more of the cost. Accepting that funding required the town to legally agree to certain airport assurances (as they are called) for twenty years. While most of the assurances are concerned with accounting for the FAA money two others prohibit the town from banning any type of aircraft, establishing curfews, and taking other measures to eliminate or mitigate noise. In short the town cannot manage its airport, as it might prefer.
|EH Conservators supports
airport control tower.
Over the last several years, the East Hampton Town Board has been hard at work updating and revising the East Hampton Town Airport Master Plan. One of the options being considered is the installation of a seasonal control tower which would give the town the ability to control the altitude and flight path of noisy helicopters. Such a control tower is likely to provide relief from commuter and helicopter traffic, especially on Friday and Sunday summer evenings. We look forward to the adoption of a new Airport Master Plan in 2009, which should make it clear that the airport will not be expanded in the future and that noise abatement procedures, such as a seasonal control tower, can be instituted. That way, we can look forward to a safer and quieter airport.
As the result of a lawsuit brought against the FAA by a citizen’s organization the expiration of those assurances has been moved forward to 2014. (The FAA was eager to settle rather than go to trial.) It is conceivable that the expiration date could be moved further forward (2009) by Federal legislative action in the form of a no-cost earmark attached to a must-pass bill. Exactly what the town could do or not do when assurances have expired is not entirely clear, however. A lawyer with special expertise has been retained by the town to provide an answer and is presumably at work.
Meanwhile, working within FAA limitations Jim Brundige has had remarkable success in reducing aircraft noise. Equipment acquired by the town tracks and records flight path, altitude, and aircraft identification of all activity in and out of HTO. At the same time noise complaints phoned to 537-LOUD are recorded; noise-offending aircraft can be identified by the tracking system. This is primarily a jet problem. Brundige has developed in and out flight routes intended to be the least bothersome. Compliance by pilots is voluntary; FAA assurances eliminate any enforcement power by the town. Voluntary observance has been surprisingly good thanks to Brundige’s persuasiveness.
But the major noise problem comes from commuter helicopter traffic especially Friday and Sunday summer evenings. The most desirable in and out routes have been developed by Brundige and discussed with the helicopter companies, the Eastern Regional Helicopter Association and with individual pilots. It has helped but helicopter noise routinely disturbs the peaceful enjoyment of the homes of very many.
Within the last year the town hired an assistant to Brundige, Matt O’Brien. He has the title of Noise Abatement Officer and there is no doubt that his concentration on the problem has helped. New technology may succeed in reducing helicopter noise in the future as it has with the newest jets but the HTO noise problem will never be entirely resolved until we are free of FAA control. That should be a high priority objective of the town board.