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The Mast-Head: On the Flight Path

Wed, 08/31/2022 - 17:54

Step outside of the East Hampton Star building on Main Street on a summer day and there is a very high probability that a private jet will be overhead. It, or a large propeller plane or helicopter, will be on its descent approach to East Hampton Airport.

The sound from aircraft is often briefly loud enough to pause easy conversation — or wake you from a nap, if you were, ahem, inclined to slip out to a car in our parking lot or stretch out on the grass behind the library sometime after lunchtime when you needed a break from the letters to the editor.

It has not always been this way. My great-grandfather Everett J. Edwards had the building constructed as a pharmacy and apartments in 1900; the first experimental motor-driven aircraft was flown in 1903. The Star moved in before World War II. Private jet travel did not get going until the 1960s. Aircraft noise came to us; we did not “buy in the flight path” or whatever other dismissive clichés the pro-airport crowd offer.

I have mixed opinions about the jets. They are remarkably compelling machines, even beautiful to look at as they slide toward the Wainscott runway. They are also unacceptably loud and pollute the air. Estimates of the level of greenhouse gas per private jet passenger are somewhere around five to 15 times that of commercial aviation. In recent BBC reporting associated with the 2021 United Nations climate summit held in Glasgow, private jet flight pollution by distance traveled was said to be “significantly worse” than any other form of transportation.

Jets use significantly more fuel during takeoff and landing. The roar that I can hear from the Star parking lot, as the engines are backed to slow the plane on touchdown, is the sound of the earth warming.

Aircraft of all varieties landed or took off between Jan. 1 and the end of July more than 12,000 times. About 4,000 of these takeoffs and landings were by helicopters, about 2,500 were by private jets. In a widely cited study, scholars from Indiana University calculated the carbon footprint of 20 billionaires, including Wainscott’s own Ronald Perelman, and found that, together, their transportation choices produced nearly 55,000 metric tons of greenhouse emissions, more than 500 times as much — per individual — than the United States average.

It has been said before, but if East Hampton Town elected officials want to really get serious about reducing this community’s contribution to climate change, the airport is an obvious place to make an actual difference. Ah, well, it will never happen. But it could. Maybe. As much as I like the jets, I won’t miss them if they go away and I suspect that I am not alone in this.

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