East Hampton Town has barred a Princeton, New Jersey-based helicopter charter service from operating at its Wainscott airport for 90 days following at least two “unsafe and reckless operations” at the airport.
The controversy over aircraft noise and safety on the East End has intensified over the past several years as private air traffic has become more accessible through sharing apps and pay-by-the-seat flights. East Hampton Airport operations were up 7.5% over the previous year as of August, with helicopter traffic making up about 30% of all flights, airport manager Jim Brundige said at an August town work session.
Town officials said Tuesday in a news release that a pilot flying a helicopter operated by Analar Corporation flew just 100 feet above the airport’s terminal building on Aug. 28. Brundige told the company that behavior violated the town’s airport code and would not be tolerated, the town said. The company admitted the pilot had acted recklessly and said the matter would be dealt with internally, according to the town.
But on Aug. 31 a second helicopter again acted recklessly, flying just 250 feet above neighboring homes, the town said.
Town law states “that pilots who willfully perform unsafe, low or noise-provoking maneuvers shall forfeit his right to engage in activity at the airport,” although the code does not mention specific altitudes.
The town has since barred Analar from taking off or landing at the airport from Sep. 24 until Dec. 23. Analar can appeal the decision.
“Unsafe operations by aircraft using East Hampton Airport will not be tolerated,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said in a news release. “It is particularly disturbing that these aircraft, on a perfectly clear day, would fly below the agreed-upon voluntary minimum altitude. This was not only unsafe but violated the ‘Fly Neighborly’ protocol agreed to by the Eastern Region Helicopter Council in order to mitigate the considerable noise impacts from helicopters that affect our residents.”
The helicopter council did not respond to requests for comment.
Analar touts its safety record on its website, noting it has “maintained an FAA Part 135 charter certificate since 1979 without an accident, incident, or unscheduled landing, making us one of the safest flight-operations providers in the United States.”
"We have violated no aviation regulations, operated in a safe manner at all times and believe that the town’s actions are not appropriate," the company said Wednesday in a statement. "We are consulting with our legal counsel and will be responding."
Teresa McCaskie, an anti-helicopter noise advocate from Southold, noted the penalty lacks the punch it would have had if the company were suspended in the high season, from Memorial day to Labor Day, but called the action a step in the right direction.
“The positive side of this is it’s a message to pilots they must fly neighborly and follow the rules and regulations for safety and noise abatement,” McCaskie said.