The number of flights at the embattled East Hampton Airport fell by 35 percent last year, as the pandemic limited travel. Complaints to an airport hotline dropped as well, by about 40 percent. But even in a slow year, there were 12,500 flights in or out of the airport — an astonishing number in itself. What that figure should tell you is that our kind-of quiet skies are about to get a whole lot louder as Covid-19 restrictions ease.
There was much in a recent airport consultant’s report to consider, but one statistic really stood out. In 2020, 75 percent of passengers arriving at the airport did so aboard commercial aircraft. When surveyed, about half of the passengers said that they would no longer visit if flights were banned. The consultants estimated the economic hit from this at between $3 million and $7 million, negligible sums, given how things are out here.
As airport traffic bounces back to previous highs, pressure will build on the East Hampton Town Board to take advantage of its long obligation to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration. Because in the past the town accepted money from the F.A.A., it had few options for controlling its use. However, the so-called grant assurances will finally run out in September, handing authority back to town officials. Among the town’s options after that happens are doing nothing, working with the F.A.A. on new noise-limiting measures, closing the airport temporarily to get around the F.A.A.’s requirement that it continue to allow commercial flights, or shutting it permanently.
Closing East Hampton Airport for good now seems increasingly the only option for bringing relief to the tens of thousands of people who are affected by traffic flying in and out of it. The benefit to the region would be instant, both in terms of increased property values and the public’s sanity. One does not have to live anywhere near the airport to be troubled by it. Helicopters following the shoreline the length of Long Island can be heard long before they are seen as people try to relax on our beaches. Backyard gatherings are rocked by aircraft from Wainscott to the North Fork. Jets approach the airport by flying low over East Hampton Village most of the time, then back their engines as they land in a roar that can be heard for miles. Then there are localized environmental concerns about emissions and spills.
Among a blizzard of numbers suggesting that closing the East Hampton Airport should be given serious consideration is one, as in 1 percent — the maximum number of East Hampton visitors who use the airport in any given year. Considering this, it is very difficult to justify keeping things as they are. Little old East Hampton Airport has become a full-fledged commercial nightmare from which there appears but one way out.