Safety Lapses Are Charted

Members of an autonomous citizens’ committee on airport noise, including a number of those who served on a town board-appointed similar group that the town later disbanded, visited East Hampton Airport on Friday evening to observe and videotape its operations at the start of the busy Labor Day weekend.

In a statement after the visit, members asserted that they had seen unsafe practices: “Cautioned by the airport manager to remain behind the terminal’s public patio railing for safety reasons, the committee was then surprised to observe two small boys run out onto the tarmac, unescorted, to greet their father, who had emerged from a helicopter.  The committee also observed that, while some helicopters relocated away from the terminal to refuel, others were refueled near the terminal where they had discharged passengers.”

“We went to watch operations and congestion, but were astonished at the safety lapses we saw,” said David Gruber, a committee member, in the release. “And those were just the ones we could easily observe from the small patio in a short span of time. It looks to me that no one in town government, up to and including the supervisor, has any idea where the town’s responsibilities regarding the airport and airport safety begin or end.” 

The group also claimed that its view of airfield operations was deliberately blocked by fuel trucks owned by Sound Aircraft Services, one of the fixed-base operators that leases space at the airport. Three fuel trucks lined up to park in front of the terminal patio from which the committee was observing, members said, and air passengers were then “forced to walk through a narrow space between the fuel trucks and the patio for access to the terminal, creating a totally unsafe condition.”

Asked to comment on safety procedures at the airport, Supervisor Larry Cantwell said in an email only that “fuel trucks should not be parked in this location.” Jemille Charlton, the airport manager, and Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who is the town board’s airport liaison, did not respond by press time.

The new airport noise committee was formed several weeks ago in response to frustration over continued aircraft noise, despite airport use restrictions in effect for the first time this summer. The new committee’s members, who had worked with town officials to examine and address airport noise issues, have expressed frustration with the course taken by the town, which has resulted, they say, in “the lack of meaningful noise mitigation.” They have also questioned the legal advice offered by the town’s airport counsel.

A second newly formed committee, also founded by frustrated anti-noise advocates, called Say No to KHTO (the airport’s aviation title) is advocating for closing the airport.