Tension mounts in East Hampton airport drama

Ah, summer in New York. A time for intense temperatures, heady romance and action-packed blockbuster movies. But this season’s biggest drama is playing out on the tarmac at East Hampton Airport, a two-and-a-half-hour drive east of Manhattan (four if you arrive at rush hour, six if c is a bank holiday weekend).

The desire to avoid the rampant car traffic to luxury Hamptons “Out East” retreats has fueled a confrontation over the planned airport closure. By air, Manhattan residents can reach East Hampton in less than 45 minutes.

But some Hamptons residents say the noise of a boom in private air travel is intolerable. This summer, a years-long battle came to a head when the airport was to be closed on May 17 in order to be deprived by the city, which would allow operations to be controlled. The airport has been temporarily kept open and remains public without restrictions – following an emergency restraining order and pending a judge’s decision.

Between May and September of each year, East Hampton’s population explodes from around 22,000 to around 90,000. Lines at grocery stores grow longer as “summer visitors” arrive to enjoy pristine beaches, cooler temperatures and the absence of the smell of hot city trash.

In 2019, 31,000 flights landed at East Hampton Airport, with the vast majority – 75% – concentrated in the summer months, according to city data. The 2019 figure was up 21% from 2015, largely due to an increase in helicopter landings, which rose 42% over the period.

Commercial helicopter airlines, such as Blade, have helped push the outrageous convenience of private travel from 0.1% to 1% wider. A seat in East Hampton will cost you around $1,000 one way.

Helicopter landings at East Hampton Airport have increased 42% in four years © Frank Eltman/AP

While the battle has raged at East Hampton airport for years, the scrutiny has intensified during the pandemic as townspeople fled to their luxury beachside hideaways to weather the storm .

The number of complaints had already increased from 19,000 four years earlier to 47,000 in 2019, mostly from properties in the flight path. Complaints came from 553 households, a few of which numbered over 1,000. Helicopter traffic is over-represented, accounting for 53% of noise-related complaints, despite accounting for only 30% of landings at the airport , according to city data.

The conflict between Long Islanders and more affluent, transient vacationers is a story older than Gatsby. But the airport debate is not so simple. Local businesses don’t want to hamper the spending of frequent travelers, while summer visitors don’t appreciate the incessant chopping of elevator blades above their beach homes.

The environmental impact of all private air travel is concerning, while heli-commuters fear the end of the carpool party. Proponents of keeping the airport say it is vital for the local community to have access to an airport for medical evacuations.

The city of East Hampton has been hit with multiple lawsuits over its attempt to shut down the airport, and the battle has been heated. (“I’ve never seen a case with more requests,” said an aviation attorney involved in the airport dispute.) “Eighty percent of the city wants the airport to stay open. , with restrictions on things like timings,” says Andy Sabin. , a pro-airport resident of the Hamptons and a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against the city. “But we have the wackadoos here. If you don’t like rich people, go to Venezuela or Cuba and you won’t have to worry about that anymore.

Peter Van Scoyoc, the city supervisor and a named defendant in a lawsuit brought by Blade, and his office did not respond to requests for comment.

Airport supporters say time is money. A study last year by the East Hampton Community Alliance (EHCA) calculated that flying may actually be the cheapest option over bus or train, based on a person valuing their time at $400 per hour, which is then multiplied by the travel time and added to the ticket price. However, the reality is that travelers should place an even higher value on their time — turboprops can be hired from around $12,000 return, according to Evojets.

Because of this budget paradox, airport supporters say closing East Hampton will shift traffic to other airports. The residents of Montauk, 20 miles away, are not happy.

The EHCA estimates that a package of proposals aimed at appeasing East Hampton residents, such as curfews on flight times, would only affect 13% of air travel to the airport, but address 38 % Complaints. Other proposals, such as limiting commercial operations like Blade, or particularly noisy planes, to one flight per day, are much less popular with flight-sharing companies. And while the community group believes the city and pro-airport groups are in agreement on the majority of issues at this point, they said the fighting has become so fierce that compromise seems increasingly out of reach. . The fabulous coverage of the battle in the local newspapers is worth seeking out instead of reading on the beach this summer.

For now, the airport remains open pending a judge’s decision, and tensions are high. In the meantime, it’s still summer in the Hamptons and — as a friend of mine likes to say — “There’s no crying at the beach house.”

Madison Darbyshire is the FT’s New York-based investment reporter. Follow Madison on Twitter @MADarbyshire

This article is part of FT Wealtha section offering in-depth coverage of philanthropy, entrepreneurs, family offices, as well as alternative and impact investing