Hampton Chopper Feud Heats Up as Operators Fight New Law

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Helicopter companies sued East Hampton, New York, over noise limits they say will sharply restrict access to the airport in the wealthy resort town on eastern Long Island where the chopper debate for years has divided airborne commuters and groundlings.

The aircraft operators said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Central Islip, New York, federal court that regulations imposing a flight curfew and limiting noise conflict with federal aviation standards and are unconstitutional.

The East Hampton Airport is the “engine for regional and local commerce” and enabled the eastern end of Long Island to be “an accessible, highly desirably destination, particularly during the summer months,” the companies said in their complaint. The town has “transgressed the bounds of its extremely limited authority” by adopting restrictions April 16 that are expected to take effect “imminently, upon public filing by the New York secretary of state.”

The town, which runs the airport, said it engaged in a “deliberative” process to make the rules and will re-evaluate them after the 2015 season to “make sure that they have been only as restrictive as necessary.”

Federal standards cited by the helicopter operators no longer apply to the airport, the town said in a statement.

“We have, with surgical precision, defined precise restrictions that limit only the most disturbing operations,” the town said.

Built in the 1930s as a New Deal project, the airport serves about 16,000 aircraft each year, with most flights occurring from May to October, according to the town’s website.

More Choppers

Helicopter traffic increased more than 46 percent in 2014 from the previous year, according to town figures. There were 8,396 helicopter takeoffs and landings in 2014 compared with 5,728 in 2013.

The increase may have been driven by the use of a mobile-phone-based helicopter service called Blade, similar to Uber, said Peter Kirsch, a lawyer who represents the town on aviation matters. Representatives of Blade didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the dispute.

The new restrictions would prohibit use of the airport at night by certain aircraft and largely bar helicopters from flying more than one trip a week during the summer season, “effectively shutting down commercial charter service” at the busiest time of year, the helicopter operators said.

The helicopter firms said the town used flawed research to assess noise problems, relying on hotline complaints generated mostly by only about 1 percent of the homes in the region.

The case is Friends of the East Hampton Airport Inc. v. Town of East Hampton, 2:15-cv-02246, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Central Islip).

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