About five dozen people who came to East Hampton Airport this week to complain about helicopter noise found themselves queued up at the podium like planes waiting to take off.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which held the public hearing, imposed a strict three-minute comment limit. A few attendees who are pilots said noise problems could be mitigated. But at least four of five speakers were there to complain about approach routes, which they said create a constant stream of helicopters flying overhead all summer.
Because of the time limit Wednesday night, some who wanted to speak a second time had to wait until everyone had a turn. It took more than an hour and a half for everyone to finish.
"Airport noise has a significant impact on our community," said North Haven village trustee Jeffrey Sander. "Is one of your purposes to study this awful noise?"
He was told there would be no answers during the hearing, but that all the crowd's questions would be dealt with in a report expected to be completed by summer.
The public-comment session was required as part of an environmental review of the seasonal control tower at the airport mandated by the FAA. Already delayed, that environmental review is expected to keep the tower from going into operation until June, at least a month after its originally planned May 1 opening date, according to airport manager James Brundige.
"I expected some noise, but my house is being inundated every weekend," said Lois Youdelman of Wainscott, who lives near the airport. "The helicopters are the issue, not the planes. I can make eye contact with the pilots from my deck . . . you can't sit there [on the deck] without wiping off black soot."
East Hampton attorney Jeffrey Bragman said the hearing was taking place at the wrong place and time. "You're running this hearing by the airport, for the airport and in the airport," he said. "You have no connection to the community."
A few pilots said noise problems could be mitigated by requiring helicopters to fly higher and use several routes. But others said things have gotten even worse since a route change forced helicopters, which had been flying over Northwest Woods in East Hampton, to fly instead over Jessup's Neck and Noyack.
One man from Mattituck said no one in his community had been told of the meeting, though helicopters regularly fly across Mattituck Inlet to the airport. And Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said the airport consultants should expand their study area to include parts of her town that are also being affected by helicopter noise.
East Hampton Airport in Wainscott is a few miles from the Southampton Town line.