East Hampton Town officials are abandoning plans to impose a summer weekend ban on all helicopters during the busy Hamptons tourism season, citing concerns about aircraft being diverted to neighboring towns.
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said at a meeting Tuesday that the town board would drop the proposed ban, which was part of a long-anticipated package of measures intended to help reduce aircraft noise over the East End and address residents' quality-of-life complaints.
She said the town board would still seek to impose nighttime curfews on flights at the East Hampton Airport, which is in Wainscott, and a one-trip-per-week limit on some aircraft. The board will vote on the rules April 16 and seek to implement them before Memorial Day weekend in May, she added.
"I have long said that I will not push our problem on others, and I will respect that commitment," said Burke-Gonzalez, who spearheaded the effort to craft the rules over the past year.
She said that, based on preliminary talks with air traffic experts, there is a real risk that a ban would shift helicopter traffic to Montauk Airport, a helipad operated by Southampton Village, or to Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton. Town officials are awaiting a consultant's report on how much air traffic the rules would divert to other airports.
At a public hearing last month, representatives from Southampton and Montauk raised concerns about air traffic diversion. Jeremy Samuelson, director of the environmental group Concerned Citizens of Montauk, said Tuesday that his organization "is happy that the town board has taken the time to consider what the possible impacts are of completely shutting off the spigot at East Hampton Airport."
The town is facing a lawsuit from helicopter pilots and aviation industry members seeking to block the regulations. East Hampton's attorneys have warned that a judge could throw out the rules if they are deemed too broad or discriminatory against certain aircraft.
East Hampton's revised proposal consists of a curfew on takeoffs and landings from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.; an extended curfew for noisy aircraft from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.; and a rule limiting noisy aircraft to one trip per week from May through September. The town defines noisy aircraft as models that exceed a certain decibel level.
Those three rules, without the ban, would still affect 75 percent of helicopter takeoffs and landings on summer weekends and holidays at East Hampton Airport, according to Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., a Massachusetts-based noise consulting firm hired by the town.
Charles Ehren, vice chairman of the anti-noise group Quiet Skies Coalition, urged the town board at Tuesday's meeting to reconsider the ban. He said he doubted the one-trip-per-week limit would significantly reduce air traffic because helicopter companies own multiple aircraft.
"I'm imagining, if I were operating a helicopter company, that I would switch around equipment to get by the once-a-week rule," he said.
Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the aviation industry group Friends of East Hampton Airport, said that even without the ban, the other proposed rules will "close off the airport to the vast majority of traffic," resulting in a loss of economic activity on the East End.