Town Grounds Blade Flights to East Hampton

Town officials on Friday announced that they had revoked a license agreement with Fly Blade, which offers scheduled and charter helicopter flights to East Hampton Airport. Durell Godfrey

Two days after hearing a presentation on how it might restrict flights at East Hampton Airport, the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday revoked a license agreement with the helicopter company Fly Blade, which offers scheduled and charter flights to East Hampton. 

The board also authorized the town attorney to file a complaint with the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings of the United States Department of Transportation asking for a review of Blade’s practices and its consistency with federal obligations.

The board charged that Fly Blade Inc., with which the town entered into a license agreement in 2016, is deceptively marketing itself as offering scheduled passenger service to East Hampton Airport. The airport is not certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to accommodate scheduled passenger service.

The 2016 agreement allowed Blade a check-in desk at the airport, at which passengers undergo a security check, they and their baggage are weighed, and they are directed to the proper aircraft. 

Edward Burke Jr., a Sag Harbor attorney representing the company, issued a statement on Friday that Blade had not been notified of the change by anyone from East Hampton Town. He also said that the company complies with Department of Transportation requirements.  Timothy Dwyer, Blade’s head of operations, said yesterday that the company is “in communication with the town.”

As of yesterday, Blade’s website offered scheduled flights to the South Fork, including flights from the East 34th Street Heliport and the West 30th Street Heliport to East Hampton Airport via Bell 407 helicopters, both departing Manhattan at 5:30 p.m. A seat is listed at $795 on each flight. Seats to East Hampton Airport can still be booked through August.

A statement issued by the town last Thursday said that Blade has previously been investigated by the Department of Transportation and was “determined to have violated federal law by engaging in air transportation as a direct and indirect air carrier without economic authority.” As a result of the violations, the company signed a consent agreement with the department and paid a $40,000 fine.

In an add-on resolution last Thursday night, the town board voted to revoke the 2016 license agreement and said it would not issue Blade a new license until the company complies with Department of Transportation and F.A.A. rules. 

“Our small, local general aviation airport is not designed for scheduled air service,” and the town “will not tolerate operators violating the law, especially when the safety of the flying public is jeopardized by unfair and deceptive business practices of operators,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board’s co-liaison to East Hampton Airport, said in a release.

“The town faces a steep increase in air traffic through businesses that appear to offer, in advance, scheduled passenger service to the airport, either through smartphone applications or by offering scheduled passenger service to the public directly,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said in the release. “It has an obligation not just to ensure that the airport remains safe for all users, but also that adequate disclosures are made to the traveling public with respect to commercial arrangements at the airport.”

Councilman Jeffrey Bragman, the other co-liaison to the airport, said in the same release that “Until such time that they prove that they are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, they have no place at East Hampton Airport. Ride sharing of helicopters which masquerades as scheduled service, is damaging to our community and small airport.”

The town’s decision followed a long discussion on April 17 between the board and Bill O’Conner, an attorney assisting the town with an analysis known as an F.A.A. Part 161 study, which airports must perform when proposing local noise or operational restrictions on aircraft. The study is part of a new effort to exert control over noise that has long plagued people living under East Hampton Airport flight paths.

The board is focusing on potential ways to restrict, or even ban, aircraft deemed noisy, including helicopters. Officials hope that the Part 161 study will be completed and be ready to submit in the fall.

This article has been updated since it was posted with the April 26, 2018, print version.