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New rules for East Hampton Airport's airspace

Sometime this week, the new seasonal control tower at East Hampton Airport will begin regulating airspace up to 2,500 feet above the runways, bringing the busy summer-season airport under control of tower operators for the first time, and promising added safety and less noise.

The Federal Aviation Administration will publish a formal notice of the change in the next few days, according to East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione.

"I'm very excited," Stanzione said. "We've been working for this for a long time."

The tower -- actually a trailer filled with sophisticated electronic and communications equipment -- stands on a low steel platform, high enough above the runways to let the controllers see the planes arrive and depart, but not the tall structure seen at most commercial airports.

Once it is in service, pilots will have to follow federal rules and regulations covering approach and takeoff routes, and the control area will stretch in a 5-mile radius from the runways. Currently, the airspace is federally listed as uncontrolled.

That should mean a reduction in noise complaints, and a greater margin of safety for pilots and passengers, said airport manager James Brundige.

East Hampton Airport in Wainscott has drawn noise complaints from local residents for years, and demands that it be closed have come up regularly before the town board for more than a decade.

But the airport also has many supporters, and some officials say privately that much of the real estate wealth of the town -- and the revenue that brings -- depends on the ability of seasonal residents to fly to their six-figure summer hideaway rentals quickly on weekends.

A year ago, the town board hired a Port Jefferson consulting firm to provide noise complaint management services and track which aircraft and helicopters generated the most gripes. It also hired a Virginia company to track incoming and outgoing flights as part of the town's voluntary noise abatement program, and retained Virginia-based Robinson Aviation to set up and operate the control tower for three years at $342,000 a year.

The cost of running the control tower in conformance with FAA rules will be paid for through airport revenues, not general taxes, town officials say.

Stanzione said that 90 percent of the pilots using the town-owned airport follow voluntary noise abatement routes, but that with 30,000 flights a year, the remaining 10 percent can produce noise problems. He predicted that with the new tower in operation, the number of noise complaints should drop dramatically.

The town does have some control over flights, but its jurisdiction runs only to the perimeter of the airport and extends up 700 feet.

There are no plans for a grand opening ceremony when the tower goes into operation, but Stanzione said some kind of formal observance will be held before the July 4 weekend.

The seasonal tower will remain in operation throughout the summer.

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