The early days
KHTO once was a good neighbor.
But, once expansion began, new projects
transformed the airport and eroded the
quality of life of surrounding communities.
East Hampton Airport was founded in the 1930s for use as a recreational airport by local pilots who mostly flew small propeller planes. The grass landing strip was replaced by a runway constructed during the 1940s, likely an initiative of the Work Projects Administration (WPA). Around that time, the then over 600-acre property was deeded in perpetuity to the Town of East Hampton.
The wide-ranging aviation problems which afflict our community today developed during the 1970s, when a few wealthy homeowners began to commute by air to East Hampton, ignoring automobile or rail travel options. Once airport expansion began, demands continued for more projects that would enhance capacity, and demands by aviation proponents continue to this day.
Airport proponents and local pilots called for the Town to accept FAA money for capital improvements: an Automated Weather Operating System (AWOS), then a temporary air traffic control tower, later a permanent seasonal tower. In recent years suggestions have been made for more paving to allow more parking for bigger jets, and more paving for more automobile parking, even a separate passenger terminal for helicopter operations!
The tower was not the noise abatement tool much touted by local pilots in their months-long advertising campaign but it was, just as anti-expansion activists had predicted, the death knell for the former bucolic hamlets of the East End.
It was not the East Hampton Airport which first brought economic opportunity to the East End. It was and is still today the ocean and beaches, bays and ponds, woodlands and peaceful rural vistas--our extraordinarily varied, precious and fragile environment increasingly threatened by aviation pollution.
Fast forward to the 21st century
The opening of the permanent air traffic control tower in 2013 ushered in a new era at KHTO, one with more and bigger aircraft, including twin-engine helicopters, larger seaplanes and huge privately-owned as well as chartered jets. The quiet, local airport is now only a memory.
Although KHTO's control tower operates in season only, and only for 12 hours per day from end May to early September, the airport has traditionally welcomed more traffic during those busy months than many airports accommodate year-round.
Of 30,000 flights at KHTO in 2019, approximately sixty percent occurred from June 30 to September 30th.
KHTO is now a hub for out-of-state air taxi profiteers peddling lucrative Hamptons short-haul flights from tri-state locations (wine sippy cups included), and touting East Hampton's reputation as a high-end summer resort. They neglect to mention the increased noise and air pollution for which they are largely responsible.
An indirect air carrier, BLADE, partnered with other aviation operators to gain access to a fleet of aircraft including jets, helicopters and seaplanes. With a large fleet of fixed-wing and rotor aircraft at its beck and call, the company can summon smaller, larger or faster aircraft as needed to fill either crowd-sourced short-haul flights or long-distance jet charters.
Crowd-sourcing flights lowered the formerly high price per seat. Cheaper seats (on helicopters and seaplanes) are aggressively marketed to weekend visitors and discounts offered for multiple fights. After more than five lucrative years at the expense of residents' lost quality of life, BLADE's enormous carbon footprint looms over the East End and continues to expand. No eco-guilt is evident with these charter operators, no concern for our well-being is evident, their objective is simply profit.
Long Island residents are reeling from egregious aviation operations and increasingly aware of the dangers of low-altitude flights in "recommended" narrow air corridors above residences, routes designed by those with aviation interests for the shortest, fastest most profitable journeys.
Large twin engine helicopters traveling from NYC to KHTO dump over 20 million lbs. of toxic fuel emissions every year.