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East Hampton wants Feds to investigate app-based copter service

An undated picture shows a Fly Blade Inc.

An undated picture shows a Fly Blade Inc. helicopter in New Jersey. East Hampton town officials said Friday they have revoked the Manhattan-based helicopter service's airport license agreement and are calling for a federal investigation of the company's booking practices. Credit: Celia Rogge

Officials in East Hampton Town have revoked a Manhattan-based helicopter service’s airport license agreement and are calling for a federal investigation of the company’s booking practices, town officials said Friday.

In a statement, town officials announced they were authorizing the town attorney to file a complaint with the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings of the U.S. Department of Transportation against Fly Blade Inc., a company that allows users via mobile app to book helicopters, seaplanes and jets for travel to East Hampton and other destinations.

The revoking of the license means Fly Blade will no longer be able to operate a check-in kiosk used by passengers of the helicopter app service, East Hampton Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski said Friday. As per the agreement between both parties, the company will have 30 days to vacate the premises at East Hampton Airport in Wainscott.

“The town faces a steep increase in air traffic through businesses that appear to offer, in advance, scheduled passenger service to the airport, either through smartphone applications or by offering scheduled passenger service to the public directly,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said in the statement. “It has an obligation not just to ensure that the airport remains safe for all users, but also that adequate disclosures are made to the traveling public with respect to commercial arrangements at the airport.”

Edward Burke Jr., the attorney representing Fly Blade, said in a statement Friday that East Hampton officials had not contacted the company regarding the issue.

Burke added that Fly Blade had been “in full compliance with all DOT regulations” during flights to “multiple destinations in the East End of Long Island and elsewhere in the Northeast.”

“The company has requested a meeting with East Hampton Town representatives to provide an understanding as to how Blade arranges flights within federal guidelines,” Burke said.

An investigation by the Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings office found that during 2014, Fly Blade “held itself out as a direct air carrier and engaged in unauthorized air transportation as an indirect air carrier,” according to an April 2015 consent order from the department. The agency ordered the Manhattan company to pay a civil penalty of $80,000.

Despite that, the town states in its April 19 complaint to the enforcement office, “it appears to the town that Blade either continues, or has resumed, the very types of practices that led the Department to find violations in the first place.”

Pointing to the frequency of scheduled flights the company publishes on its website between specific points in New York City and East Hampton Airport, town officials stated that they are concerned Fly Blade may be operating more than the allowed four trips per week between departure and destination points that on-demand aircraft operators are limited to under federal regulations.

“This is an opening salvo in the town’s exercise of going after people who are misusing our small general aviation airport,” Sendlenski said.

“Until such time that they prove that they are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, they have no place at East Hampton Airport,” stated Councilman Jeffrey Bragman, the town’s co-liaison to the airport. “Ride sharing of helicopters which masquerades as scheduled service is damaging to our community and small airport.”

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