As already reported, a state judge last Monday afternoon issued a temporary restraining order in effect blocking East Hampton Town’s announced plans to temporarily close East Hampton Airport at midnight on May 17. This has caused some confusion about what can happen, what might happen, and what will happen.
It is really hard to predict the future in the scenario where the Town finds itself. However, there are these factors.
The FAA is ok with what the town is proposing and doing, and that is a big positive for the town. The commercial interests (helicopter companies) are going to be using serious litigation and pursuing their goals of preserving their present successful business model. Most likely they are not going to take one judge’s decision and go away.
The decades old issue of noise control around the airport due to low flying helicopters and private jets crystallized into the present plan to restructure the airport’s rules.
The subtleties of the litigation have forced the commercial interests (commercial helicopters) to achieve a temporary restraining order stopping the town from implementing its overall new plan for airport usage starting with the May 17 closure plan.
This issue will get argued in court, very quickly. Since the threshold for a temporary restraining order centers around whether the town’s action caused irrefutable harm to the commercial interests, getting the temporary restraining order was not all that difficult.
Up next, arguments will be presented in court. Then will the judge lift the restraining order? Will the court allow the parties to continue to litigate? Will the town be free to implement their plan? None of these questions will be answered until the judge makes a ruling. This presents the town with wild cards.
Wild cards such as when and if will the town be allowed to continue implementing their plan including the restrictions they want to put into place? Then what will the helicopter companies do? At the moment the helicopter companies have implied they are going to land somewhere. Therefore, what impact will that have on places such as Montauk and other new landing destinations?
If the judge rules the town is free to move forward, the town board will have to watch carefully what happens with the new restrictions in place and if they will need to adjust them. Hopefully these maneuvers and procedures will not affect the great safety record the airport has.
As things stand, the town is going to continue to run the airport, the way they are running it now. When the airport becomes designated as a “private airport,” that doesn’t mean it’s going to be privately operated. “Private Airport” is just an FAA designation for different types of airport operations. “Private Use” means the town is still going to continue to operate the airport but be able to limit air traffic in the new ways they have chosen to limit activity.
In effect, EH airport will no longer be an “on-demand,” airport but a “prior permission to land” scenario airport. This means the town has established a set of new rules and if you fall within those rules you will have permission to land. If you don’t, you cannot land. The airport will still be operated by the town.
The amount of time for notice for closing and reopening the airport will become a factor as the clock races toward the busy Memorial Day weekend. A guess would be that should the judge rule in favor of the town the prior planned two-day process would go into effect, but that is speculation. If he rules against the town and does not lift the restraining order the airport will continue to run as it has. The only totally wild card is if this dispute somehow gets booted to a Federal Court.