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‘Members Only’: East Hampton Airport moves to private use

Under the new framework, East Hampton would operate as a publicly owned private-use facility for which prior permission is required. Consequently, the town has the authority to implement and enforce restrictions such as imposing noise limitations, prohibiting certain users, and restricting takeoffs and landings during certain times of the day. Permanent closure of East Hampton also remains on the table, but before any parameters are set, the community will have an opportunity to weigh in.

The embattled airport has been a source of contention between the township, residents, and airport users for decades, but especially so in recent years since helicopter traffic has substantially picked up. Despite thousands of noise complaints from a vocal minority, most East Hampton residents—about 80 percent—are in favor of keeping the airport open. Many argue that it provides essential services and jobs, and closing it would just divert aircraft to neighboring towns such as Montauk, Southampton Village, Westhampton, and Sag Harbor.

Still, since 2015, the township has been actively seeking ways to cut down on traffic, including imposing curfews on aircraft. The result was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined the town’s actions conflict with federal authority reserved exclusively to the FAA.

Unfortunately, the FAA grants expired in September 2021, leaving the township with the power to determine East Hampton’s future. Several options were considered, including keeping the status quo, permanently closing the airport following the expiration of grant assurances, agreeing on mandatory restrictions of certain aircraft, and what the town ultimately chose to do—turning the public use to private.

Prior to its decision, the town underwent a yearlong public engagement process in which it collected public comments, held multiple board work sessions with consultants, conducted public workshops, and held meetings with interest groups.

AOPA, along with local pilots and aviation businesses, has long been invested in the issue, working alongside stakeholders and rallying to keep the airport open. AOPA representatives have made multiple trips to the town, met with council members, and participated in the town’s re-envisioning process. To help alleviate noise complaints, AOPA supported pilot groups in creating and promoting adherence to overwater flight routes in the area.

In September, a study was released showing that East Hampton generates $77 million for the local economy and supports 800 jobs. AOPA was hopeful the Town Board could see the value of East Hampton Airport as an economic asset to the community and local businesses it serves. Additionally, the airport is a staging area for distributing emergency medical supplies during natural disasters. The airport also facilitates lifesaving medical transportation. However, despite serving the eastern end of Long Island for more than eight decades, the decision was made to close the airport on February 28.

The airport will reopen March 4 under its new private-use status.

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