Early days at KHTO
When the permanent air traffic control tower opened in 2013, (following a much contested struggle between local airport proponents and anti-noise activists), the airport was quickly designated a regional airport by the FAA, at the behest of the aviation special interests, supported by airport management (Jim Brundige) and members of the Town Board (Wilkinson Administration). Those two events ushered in a new era for KHTO, bringing more air traffic, bigger helicopters and seaplanes and huge jets. The quiet, local airport was gone forever.
Although KHTO's control tower is seasonally operated, it welcomes more traffic during those few months than many airports accommodate year round.
Of 25,836 total operations at KHTO in 2016, over 60% (15,691) occurred between June 30th and September 30th, 2016. Compared to the same period in 2015, complaints filed against land planes increased by 47%, seaplanes 71%, and helicopters 18%. The number of complaints filed during the high season period, 24,309, increased by 27% over 2015.
More noise complaints were filed against operations at KHTO in three months than some larger airports receive in an entire year!
KHTO has become a hub for out-of-state air taxi operators peddling lucrative Hamptons flights (wine included), and touting East Hampton's reputation as a bucolic summer resort to lure the tri-state's many medium-to-high-income individuals.
Seaplanes like the one above, operated by BLADE Inc., have become the new menace, flying at far lower altitudes than helicopters, jets and planes. When other aircraft remain on the ground due to poor visibility, seaplanes pilots continue to fly, at even lower altitudes than usual. Seasoned pilots refer to the seaplane pilots as "cowboys".
“BLADE is now poised to become the leader in short distance aviation. It owns a unique and powerful technology platform and is building a terrific brand. That combination creates great expansion potential for the company which we are now beginning to see with additional routes and operator partnerships.”
--Kenneth Lerer, BLADE Chairman
East Hampton Airport (KHTO) was founded in the 1930s for use as a local recreational airport by pilots who flew mostly small propeller-driven planes (smaller even than the one shown below). The original 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 628-acre property was deeded in perpetuity to the Town of East Hampton.
For almost four decades, East Hampton's KHTO remained an airfield beloved by local recreational flyers and a good neighbor to nearby residents. There was no reason to believe that the small local airport would be dramatically expanded but, once expansion began, it quickly transformed not only the airport but many of the surrounding communities as well.
Small changes occurred over time, but in the early 1970s, when wealthy East End homeowners began to commute to East Hampton by air, rather than by automobile or railroad, the wide-ranging problems which afflict us today began to develop. Once the airport began to expand, there was no stopping the calls for further expansion; those efforts continue with some local pilots renewing their calls for the town to again accept FAA money; that would be the death knell for what remains of the once peaceful, rural beauty of the East End of Long Island.
Fast forward 2016
Unknown before it incorporated in 2014, industry newcomer BLADE, Inc, an indirect air carrier has, over the past eighteen months or so, partnered with other aviation operators to gain access to a fleet of at least 60 aircraft including jets, helicopters and seaplanes. With such a large fleet of aircraft at its beck and call, the company can employ bigger or smaller or less noisy aircraft when needed, and avoid some restrictions if in effect under local control.
In 2015, BLADE began crowd-sourcing air taxis which has lowered the formerly high price per seat; these cheaper seats (on both helicopters and seaplanes) are aggressively marketed to weekend visitors, even to day trippers. Aggressive advertising has created a high profile for BLADE and made the company a very big player in noisy, toxic operations at East Hampton Airport. BLADE's huge carbon footprint looms over the East End and will continue to grow.
New flight destinations to distant cities are available on demand, and Blade's frequent charters to other Northeast resort areas such as Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod and Nantucket are readily available. What's next: Jet Blue, Delta?
Business is booming at KHTO and residents all across Long Island are reeling from the noise and growing more concerned about low altitude toxic fuel emissions and increasingly polluted air.
It's time to close the airport and transform the land to benefit East Hampton residents, not those with aviation interests and a few who demand private air travel and despoil the environment with every flight.
Passengers awaiting air taxis at KHTO
Photo: Say NO to KHTO