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Community group backing effort to save East Hampton Airport

The East Hampton Airport generates millions of dollars for the local economy and is responsible for creating hundreds of jobs, “all of which could be lost if the airport were closed,” says the recently formed East Hampton Community Alliance on a page of its website dedicated to educating the public about the airport.

On February 1, the Long Island daily newspaper Newsday reported on the group’s release of an economic impact study that said the airport “produces $78 million and 870 jobs.” The report noted that in 2019, 46,000 visitors came to the region via the airport, each spending about $1,703 during stays averaging three days.

Sean Collins, AOPA’s eastern regional manager, said the study reflected strong community interest in asserting the airport’s importance as a local economic asset.

“The support of the local nonaviation community demonstrates the value of the community of educating the local population about the importance of the airport,” he said. “They are raising public awareness of the growing threat to the airport, and the value that would be sacrificed.”

According to a local aviation support group, the East Hampton Aviation Association, the airport has served eastern Long Island since the 1930s. The nonprofit aviation group has committed to working with local officials “to ensure that the airport remains a good neighbor and a valuable asset for the future.”

AOPA has long been involved in supporting East Hampton Airport’s defenders as they opposed attempts to constrain the airport. Over the years, that struggle has gone as far as litigating local officials’ efforts to impose onerous operating restrictions, curfews on flights, and other aviation-activity limits. One such case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to review appeals court rulings that held that local officials’ efforts to limit aircraft noise conflicted with the FAA’s authority to regulate aviation.

Meanwhile, pilots’ groups supported by AOPA have worked to reduce the major sources of noise—much of it created by Sikorsky S–92s and other helicopters that shuttle between eastern Long Island and Manhattan—by creating and promoting adherence to overwater flight routes through the area.

“They have helped reduce the noise at the airport, but complaints continue,” Collins said.

Now, with the contractual obligations the town assumed when it accepted federal Airport Improvement Program grant funding set to expire on September 20, closure of the airport is again on the table, according to local news reports.

In response, the East Hampton Community Alliance is working to “inform, educate and promote the understanding and impact of policy decisions by local government on the economy, public safety and recreational activities within the Town of East Hampton,” according to its website. In addition to promoting the airport’s value to the community, the group has spoken out on other important issues including improving local cellular service—critical to tourism, business efficiency, and especially to support remote learning for students during the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the release of the economic-impact report, a spirited discussion developed on the group’s Facebook page, in which community members weighed in on the airport question.

“I have ten customers that use the airport on a regular basis,” one commenter wrote. “Only a couple use helicopters, but all of them enjoy the freedom of aviation. One of them flies almost daily from Connecticut in a Cessna. Just a regular guy who works his butt off to support a large family.”

The commenter concluded his lengthy supportive post by noting that closing the airport would be “a huge mistake.”

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