East Hampton's seasonal airport control tower will cease operations at the end of the month, with the airspace above it reverting to uncontrolled status until next summer.
The change means that instead of having a controller regulate takeoffs and landings and the use of a cone-shaped airspace up to 2,500 feet above the field, pilots will maintain radio contact with other pilots as they approach and depart.
Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione said the tower was being shut down because airport traffic drops so dramatically from summer to winter. "Don't forget it costs us $365,000 a year to operate," he said.
The tower cost $600,000 to build and went into operation for the first time on June 26. Its $600,000 construction cost and its annual operating budget come exclusively from airport revenue that must be used for airport purposes, and so does not impact the town tax rate.
Airport manager James Brundige said there were 3,542 movements -- takeoffs or landings -- in June; 4,830 in July; and 5,248 in August. In September, the number dropped to around 1,200.
He said that, based on feedback from pilots, the control tower has been a good investment. "It provides a measure of order, Brundige said. "The pilots greatly appreciate it . . . we did the right thing."
The control tower was installed mainly as a safety measure, but town officials hoped it would also reduce noise complaints by requiring pilots to fly higher on their approaches. The town has sought to reduce noise complaints, but some protests still continue.
East Hampton has a three-year contract with Robinson Aviation, a Connecticut-based firm operating control towers across the country.