More than not, participants in an official forum held last week favored closing East Hampton Airport. The view might be seen in the context of who actually was motivated to take part in the online session. But several points suggest that there may be wider support for the most aggressive solution to aircraft noise complaints.
One observation that stood out is that the pro-airport participants in last Thursday’s workshop-style program were either pilots themselves or representatives of the aviation industry. Another was that closing the airport was not just the majority’s position but that it was mentioned at all — there was a time not that long ago when that scale of radical action was almost never mentioned.
A remarkable fact was that the arguments in favor of keeping the airport in operation were generally without substance. The position that the airport was economically important in East Hampton was rejected in a recent town-sponsored study. So too was the assertion that the airport served as an important medical evacuation site. Desperate perhaps, a private pilot cited the airport grasslands’ ecological significance, while apparently not mentioning their being a source of dangerous groundwater and air pollution.
One position of the pro-airport minority actually made more of a case for closing it than anything. Several times, advocates noted that pilots and helicopter companies had worked to change flight paths or follow curfews, implying that they were trying hard to be good neighbors. Well, taking that at face value and considering that these steps have not achieved the desired results, the next move is to get tougher still. You might look at it this way: The fliers say they have done all they could, yet aircraft noise remains unacceptable. Something has got to give.
Caught in the middle are private pilots and aircraft owners. It is not their fault exactly that the airport’s future has reached a crisis point, But on the other hand, plenty of them have been willing to act as shills for the aviation industry, and, in this, helped to bring the current threat down on their own heads.
We are told there remains a middle path: Closing the airport temporarily to reopen it later as a small-scale airfield without jets or helicopters. If this were a real option — and we have our doubts — it is still worth pursuing.