Early days at KHTO
East Hampton Airport (KHTO) was founded in the 1930s for use as a local recreational airport by pilots who mostly small piston engine 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 over 600-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. But, once expansion began, it quickly transformed not only the airport but also badly impacted the quality of life of surrounding communities.
The wide-ranging problems which afflict us today began to develop during the early 1970s, when wealthy homeowners began to commute by air to East Hampton, rather than by automobile or rail. Once airport expansion began, there was no stopping calls for further projects; those efforts continued with local pilots calling for the Town to accept FAA money for capital improvements, including the installation of a seasonal control tower that would be the death knell for the once peaceful recreational area and the bucolic hamlets of Long Island's East End.
Fast forward 2019
When the permanent air traffic control tower opened in 2013, (following a much contested struggle between local airport proponents and anti-noise pollution 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, large twin-engine helicopters, bigger seaplanes and huge private and charter jets. The quiet, local airport was gone forever.
Although KHTO's control tower is seasonally operated, it welcomes more traffic during those warmer months than many airports accommodate year round.
Of 30,000 total operations at KHTO in 2019, approximately 60% occurred between June 30th and September 30th, 2019.
More noise complaints have been filed annually against operations at KHTO in three months than against some larger airports in an entire year!
KHTO has become a hub for out-of-state air taxi profiteers pedaling lucrative Hamptons flights from NYC (wine sippy cups included), and touting East Hampton's reputation as a bucolic summer resort to lure the tri-state's high-income individuals.
Unknown before it incorporated in 2014, industry newcomer BLADE, Inc, an indirect air carrier has since partnered with other aviation operators to gain access to a fleet of aircraft including jets, helicopters and seaplanes. With such a large fleet at its beck and call, the company can employ bigger or smaller or faster aircraft when needed to fill its crowd-sourced short-haul flights and longer private charters.
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 big contributor to noisy, toxic operations at East Hampton Airport. After five lucrative years at our expense in lost quality of life, BLADE's huge carbon footprint looms over the East End and continues to expand.
New flight destinations to distant cities are available on demand, and Blade's and other charter companies offer frequent flights to other Northeast resort areas such as Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod and Nantucket.
Business is booming at KHTO and residents across Long Island are reeling from the noise and are increasingly concerned about low-altitude toxic fuel emissions and the increasingly polluted air over the East End.
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
Seaplanes like the one above, operated by BLADE Inc., have become an additional menace, flying at far lower altitudes than helicopters, jets and planes. When many other fixed wing aircraft remain on the ground due to poor visibility, seaplane pilots continue to fly, at even lower altitudes than usual. Seasoned pilots refer to the seaplane pilots as "cowboys".