In January, following its depletion of federal grant assurances, the town began the process to convert East Hampton Airport from a public-use facility to a private-use, prior permission required airport. The town’s plan was to enact restrictions on aircraft operations including imposing curfews and noise limitations, and even prohibiting certain users. Reasoning for the change was to address noise complaints from a small, but vocal, minority that complained about the uptick in traffic, especially in recent years.
But the conversion from public to private was met with hostility from tenants and airport users who served the town with three lawsuits, alleging the conversion violates state environmental laws. One case filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals alleges that the town’s actions violate the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990.
Additionally, a state court temporary restraining order was issued to prevent the town from converting the airport to private-use, prior permission required and implementing the town’s planned restrictions including a mandatory curfew. However, the FAA couldn’t put the brakes on the change of the airport’s identifier from HTO to JPX, decommissioning of the published IFR approach routes, and the airport appearing on charts as private-use, though it continues to operate as a public-use airport.
Though the plaintiffs have at least temporarily prevailed in keeping the status quo, the lawsuits may have backfired. The town has instructed its outside counsel to begin the process of permanently closing the airport.
In a statement, the East Hampton Community Alliance, which advocates for keeping the airport open, wrote that it “joins the overwhelming majority of East Hampton residents who want to maintain an airport with reasonable restrictions. Whether it is called HTO or JPX, reasonable people need to come together for the sake of safety and our economic future.”
AOPA continues to work alongside pilots, tenants, and stakeholders to find a workable solution that will keep the airport open.
Neither the federal court nor the state court has set timelines to hear any of the cases currently pending.