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No Plane No Gain

East Hampton Airport: A Victory for Aviation, But Disputes Continue

At New York's East Hampton Airport (HTO) on Long Island, a lengthy legal fight has come down squarely on the side of NBAA and other aviation stakeholders, which had argued that the town's adoption of noise and access restrictions was a violation of federal law.

 

On Nov. 4, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision agreeing with NBAA that the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA) continues to apply to HTO. ANCA requires airports to engage in a detailed study and to obtain FAA approval for noise-based and other access restrictions before they can be implemented. View the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Decision. (PDF)

On Jan. 11, the U.S. District Court entered an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the curfews and other restrictions at issue for HTO. View the injunction. (PDF)

"This ruling by the Second Circuit sets an important precedent for all public-use airports nationwide," said Alex Gertsen, NBAA director, airports and ground infrastructure. "Despite the town of East Hampton's stated intent to no longer accept federal Airport Improvement Program grants, the court's decision holds that ANCA – which was specifically adopted by Congress to prevent access restrictions from being imposed on a piecemeal basis by airports across the country – continues to apply to HTO."

East Hampton town officials have indicated that they plan on petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Second Circuit appeals court decision, even though town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez has acknowledged it will be an uphill battle. NBAA's Gertsen agreed, noting that previous court decisions have all been consistent with the Second Circuit's interpretation of ANCA.

"We don't believe the Supreme Court will take on this issue," said Gertsen.

The controversy arose in April 2015, when East Hampton adopted three restrictions for aircraft operations at HTO: A year-round general curfew (11 p.m.-7 a.m.), a year-round extended curfew for "noisy" aircraft (8 p.m.-9 a.m.) and a summertime one-trip-per-week limit for the aircraft deemed by the town to be noisy. In June 2015, a federal district court judge preliminarily upheld the town ordinances instituting the mandatory nighttime curfew, as well as the extended curfew on noisy aircraft, which have been enforced since July 2015. However, the court preliminarily enjoined the town from imposing a one-trip-a-week restriction.

Dean Saucier, NBAA's Northeast regional representative reiterated that "regardless of the curfews and restrictions being in place by the town, aviation operators at HTO, in fact, have long respected the concerns of local residents and have made every attempt to fly neighborly." According to Saucier, the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC) has even developed new routes, based on noise monitors ERHC had previously installed to determine how to best approach and depart HTO, to avoid sensitive areas.

NBAA is advising operators who received summonses or paid fines in the past to contact the town of East Hampton town attorney's office at 631-324-8787 to discuss their case on an individual basis.

NBAA also filed an administrative complaint with the FAA, which separately challenges the restrictions on the basis of the town's grant-based obligations, and questions whether East Hampton has inappropriately used airport revenues to pay for its legal expenses in defending the restrictions it enacted. A decision on the complaint is anticipated later this year.

"The victory in the Second Circuit is an important step in the success of NBAA's efforts in protecting access to airports," said Gertsen. "We will continue to remain vigilant and will oppose efforts that seek to limit the utility of airports like HTO and seek to cripple the overall viability of the National Airspace System."

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