to the Hamptons?
The traffic jams on Sunrise Highway? The honking horns? The angry drivers and crowded jitneys and delayed arrivals? Making that commute by car in the summer was often enough of an ordeal that it could almost end up ruining one’s entire vacation.
Helicopter flights into the East Hampton Airport (HTO), on the other hand, have proven to be a quick and easy way to travel from Manhattan to the East End. While eliminating the frustrations of having to drive all the way out East, those speedy and scenic chopper flights from New York City to the Hamptons also deliver travelers to their destination in as little as 45 minutes to an hour.
Unfortunately, the continued availability of those chopper flights is under threat today, as the existence of the East Hampton Airport is guaranteed only through the year 2021. At that point regulations related to the facility’s federal grants will expire and the airport’s future will no longer be assured.
And while it might seem hard to believe that as of next year HTO would no longer welcome flights (both airplane and helicopter) from all its charter, corporate and private clients, that is a very real possibility: Because of the ever-increasing number of noise complaints regarding aviation traffic that it’s received over the last ten years, the East Hampton Town Board is already known to be considering closing HTO permanently.
Whether resulting from the reasonable grievances of concerned citizens or just the repeated criticisms of Hamptonites with overly sensitive ears, noise complaints have been part and parcel of the East Hampton Airport’s landscape for at least the last decade. In 2012, for example, a group called “The Quiet Skies Coalition” staged a peaceful protest regarding the issue, marching through East Hampton village with signs to demand a reduction in the aviation noise coming from HTO. In 2017, meanwhile, the Board established both an 800 number and a link on the town’s website where residents could easily lodge complaints about what they considered overly loud airplane or helicopter noise.
Perhaps in part due to the ease with which residents can now lodge official complaints regarding airport noise, the number of such grievances has increased exponentially over the last years. In particular, the number of complaints about the sounds produced by those “thundering” helicopter flights has continued to grow dramatically.
The East Hampton Town Board initially attempted to address these issues in 2015 by implementing both flight limits and flight curfews (for both airplanes and helicopters), but even before those measures were thrown out in court they hadn’t adequately addressed the complaints of local residents. That’s why the future of the East Hampton Airport remains up in the air today, and why HTO management and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC) recently adjusted helicopter flight plans to be more “over the water.”
Assuming that most of the complaints filed against HTO come from the “noise-affected” people living under its flight paths, airport management and the ERHC made the concerted effort to divert as much as possible all helicopter flights away from the land housing those communities and instead send them out over the unpopulated waters of the East End: Helicopters departing HTO on the outbound “Echo Route,” for example, will now fly over the Long Island Sound by skirting the shore of Plum Island instead of crossing the land mass of the North Fork.
By maintaining these “over the water” routes for the helicopters going to and from the East Hampton Airport, the number of noise complaints being levied against HTO should come down and the future of the airport may be more likely assured. Of course, the plan does entail at least one small drawback: slightly longer flight times. Yes, by conscientiously heeding the noise concerns of local residents, helicopter operators following these “over the water” routes (as well as their passengers) will end up in the air as much as 6-8 minutes longer.
While a slightly longer flight time from New York City to the Hamptons may obviously not be what any traveler wants, spending 6-8 minutes more in a helicopter “over the water” today may well prove worth it in the end. After all, HTO’s very future may well hinge on its being a “good neighbor,” so mandating that helicopter flights today are slightly longer in order to cut down on noise complaints is a small sacrifice that needs to be made to ensure that HTO remains open for decades to come.
So buckle up, everyone, and enjoy your “over the water” ride! Maybe you’ll see a whale! The other option, of course, is that this year your helicopter ignores the complaints of local residents and flies directly over the affected communities of the North and South Fork—and then the airport is shuttered and next year you climb into a sweltering car to enjoy an hours-long traffic jam on your drive out East.
It’s all up to you!
BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR
Why Fly Over Water?
Recognizing the concerns of local residents, the East Hampton Airport (HTO) and Eastern Region Helicopter Council adjusted the helicopter flight routes into and out of HTO. To reduce the noise footprint, all operators are asked to fly moreover water than land.
These new routes do not make for faster flights. In fact, by diverting the helicopters away from populated land areas, the journey between the Hamptons and the New York metropolitan area is actually 6-8 minutes longer.
HTO’s existence is guaranteed only until 2021, so these quick and easy helicopter flights to and from the Hamptons are far from assured. With noise complaints from the local community increasing over the last decade, and some residents even pushing for the airport’s permanent closure, efforts to “be a good neighbor” must be made.
Let us know your thoughts.
If you are interested in being part of the process of preserving HTO as a vital asset to the East Hampton community and working hard to reduce the noise footprint, please let us know your thoughts on the East Hampton Airport’s effect on you and your family..