East Hampton Airport generates almost $78 million annually for the South Fork economy and supports more than 850 jobs, according to the findings of a study commissioned by a group of advocates hoping to keep the town-owned airport open.
East Hampton Community Alliance, a nonprofit pilot group, commissioned the 13-page report and released it Wednesday. The group formed last year to advocate for the airport, which the East Hampton Town Board can close after mandates tied to federal grants expire in September.
"What we’re showing in the report is what this airport is bringing to the community in terms of dollars, in terms of jobs," said Gianpaolo de Felice, a pilot and local restaurant owner who founded the group along with local Hertz franchise owner Michael Norbeck.
The airport, which serves recreational pilots, chartered jets and other operations, has become more controversial over the years, with supporters saying it is crucial to the Hamptons economy and critics contending the noise levels have become unacceptable.
Critics expressed doubts about the report’s objectivity, and town officials have said they will conduct their own independent reviews of the airport.
"I am actually awaiting the Town of East Hampton’s economic study, which will certainly be based on real data and pertinent facts," said Patricia Currie, founder of the anti-airport group Say No to KHTO, a reference to the airport’s call letters.
Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he had not seen the study and declined to comment.
Almost 46,000 people visited the East End and arrived through the Wainscott airport in 2019, the study extrapolated using data from the town clerk’s office. The report — which draws on data from a 2012 economic analysis conducted by the New York University Rudin Center and commissioned by the Eastern Region Helicopter Council — said those people spent on average $1,703 over the course of a three-day stay in 2019 inflation-adjusted dollars. The study found that visitors arriving through the airport spent an estimated $54.5 million in East Hampton Town and $23.4 million in Southampton Town.
Using data from the tourism group Discover Long Island, the study said about a quarter of the spending was on food and drinks, another quarter on transportation and the remainder on lodging, retail, second homes and recreation.
The 872 airport-supported jobs include 11 positions directly employed by the airport and another 55 supported by aviation-related tenants, including rental car firms and companies such as Blade, which offers helicopter flights between Manhattan and the East End. The study does not specify what the other positions are.
The Boston-based economic analysis firm EBP used an online modeling application called Implan 2018 to reach its conclusions. De Felice said the group spent about $10,000 on the report.
De Felice said he believes the airport is underutilized and that the economic contribution could be even higher if the property included an eatery, an aircraft mechanic business and educational programs.
"The airport would create even more economic benefit, including well-paying local jobs, if the Town of East Hampton treated the airport as the valuable asset that it is and utilized the capital created by investing accordingly," the study states.
FUEL FOR THE ECONOMY
The airport supports 872 jobs paying $34.9M in wages.
There were 22,866 takeoffs and landings in 2019. Assuming those operations are round trips and each flight carried four passengers, the study concludes 45,732 people visited the East End via the airport that year.
Visitors spent on average $1,703 for a total of $77.9 million.
Source: East Hampton Airport to the East Hampton/Southampton Economy study