A planned closure of the East Hampton Town Airport has been put on hold following the issuance of a temporary restraining order against the town late Monday in state Supreme Court.
State Supreme Court Justice Paul J. Baisley, Jr., issued the order following hearings earlier in the day in his Riverhead courtroom. The town had planned to close the airport, located in Wainscott, at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and then reopen it at 9 a.m. Thursday, in what has been a controversial attempt to turn the public facility into a private one — a move that would allow the town to institute a series of flight restrictions in order to reduce air traffic at East Hampton.
The case is due back in court on May 26.
Three groups of petitioners seeking to stop the conversion of the airport into a private facility have argued the move not only would hurt companies flying charters, private jets and helicopters into and out of East Hampton, but also would increase air traffic in other nearby jurisdictions, notably Montauk.
East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said Tuesday that while the town plans to remain "fully compliant" with the court decision, it has created "chaos."
As part of the conversion, the Federal Aviation Administration had already issued NOTAMs, written notices to pilots using the airport notifying them of the transition. As such, Van Scoyoc said the status of flight operations at the airport remains unclear.
Van Scoyoc said: "We've been in touch with the FAA, so we can coordinate with them . . . But the FAA controls the airspace and we have moved on a path toward closure of HTO and the opening of JPX and so we have no idea what this means . . . We're in limbo, I suppose."
HTO refers to the airport's existing identification code. It is expected to change to JPX.
The FAA did not respond to inquiries seeking comment Tuesday. Attorneys for the town and the petitioners could not be reached .
The airport is open year-round, but air traffic accessing the airport increases dramatically between May and September — the Hamptons summer season. The monthly number of flights increased from a low of 890 in February and December of 2021, according to town records, to a high of 6,138 last August. A total of 32,298 flights operated at the airport in 2021, town statistics show.
Town officials have argued the conversion would reduce flight noise and traffic, institute operational curfews and also would prohibit the largest jets, which are over 50,000 pounds — a move the town said would exclude planes designed to carry 12 or more passengers.
The town estimates the conversion would reduce traffic by 40% and complaints by 70%.
One of the petitioners, attorney Edmond Chakmakian, 59, of Hampton Waters, is a private pilot who often flies his Cirrus SR22 into and out of East Hampton for both business and pleasure. He is part of one of the three groups of plaintiffs who filed against the town, a named plaintiff in the action brought by the Coalition to Keep East Hampton Airport Open.
Chakmakian said the bulk of complaints received by the town about airport noise and traffic are from a small group of residents who knew the airport was there when they purchased their homes.
In response to the restraining order being issued, Chakmakian said in a statement Tuesday: "I am pleased that the court apparently saw through the Town’s attempt to rush through radical changes to the airport without the environmental impact review required by law."
With Vera Chinese