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East Hampton Airport curfews led to fewer night flights

A helicopter takes off in front of two

A helicopter takes off in front of two other choppers at East Hampton Town Airport in East Hampton in this 2014 file photo. Credit: AP

Nighttime curfews on flights to East Hampton Airport have virtually eliminated late-night and early-morning flights over eastern Long Island, but had a more nuanced impact on all air traffic, consultants to the town said Friday.

Data presented at a special town board meeting gave residents a first glimpse at the results of hotly debated anti-noise regulations that town officials passed in April, the subject of seven lawsuits and reviews by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Out of nearly 15,000 takeoffs and landings at the town-owned airport last summer, just 65 violated the curfews and the operators are being prosecuted, said Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski.

The Massachusetts planning firm HMMH crunched air traffic and complaint numbers for the town, focusing on the period from when the curfews went into effect on July 2 to when they ended on Sept. 30.

Data showed a 22 percent decrease in flights last summer by helicopters that exceed the town’s 91-decibel threshold, and a 202 percent increase in operations by quieter helicopters over 2014. While overall helicopter flights decreased 6 percent, seaplane use rose 54 percent.

The data also showed a 4 percent jump in overall traffic between 2014 and 2015. And complaints lodged by residents across both forks of eastern Long Island to an East Hampton hotline rose by 4 percent, to 17,500.

East Hampton Town Board members passed two curfews: one from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and a longer one from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. for aircraft deemed “noisy” because they exceed a 91-decibel standard.

This year the curfews will begin May 1, before the annual spike in flights to the Hamptons, and again end Sept. 30.

East Hampton officials said they imposed the restrictions to address thousands of complaints by residents over the summertime racket of helicopters, jets and seaplanes to the town’s airport.

“The nighttime curfew was extremely successful,” said Peter Kirsch, an attorney hired by the town, but he noted a “dramatic spike” in takeoffs and landings just after the longer curfew lifted each morning and just before it began at night.

East Hampton officials said Friday that they are unlikely to tighten their regulations while lawsuits by pilots and other aviation interests challenging the laws work their way through the courts. Several decisions are expected in 2017, Kirsch said.

Representatives of helicopter pilots who ferry passengers between Manhattan and the Hamptons could not immediately be reached for comment.

East Hampton Town Board members in April also approved a one-trip-per-week limit for aircraft above the “noisy” threshold, but a federal judge issued an injunction blocking that law last year after aviation interests sued.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said officials expect that rule to dramatically reduce traffic at the airport, if it is allowed to move forward.

The injunction frustrated residents who said they’ve waited years for relief.

“We all were looking forward to peace and quiet this past year, but the legal interventions stopped that,” Jim Matthews, leader of the Northwest Alliance citizens group, said Friday. “How long is this going to go on like this? What can we expect for things going forward?”

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