One Viable Solution – Letter to the Editor, East Hampton Star, May 27, 2013

Dear David,

Thank you for your eloquent editorial and Joanne Pilgrim’s comprehensive report, “Mad as Hell and Not Taking Any More,” in last week’s East Hampton Star. “Network” is a great movie. I can relate.

Most folks forget I am a pilot. East Hampton Airport was home to my Piper Warrior for 10 years. It’s interesting to note that almost all airport proponents writing letters to you are local pilots, including me. The public should note this bias, even mine. When fellow pilots minimize the magnitude of environmental, quality-of-life problems caused by the sharp increase in noisy, dirty, helicopter and seaplane traffic ferrying selfish, inconsiderate passengers to and from East Hampton Airport, they are simply blowing smoke. They are in denial. They can’t imagine waking up one morning finding the airport closed for good. Regardless of the agreements in place, it only takes determined political will to close the airport. A simple majority vote by the East Hampton Town Board. Perhaps one day local pilots will wake up to a closed airport. Here are the real facts local pilots requested for my assertions:

Pilots at Merrill C. Meigs Field Airport in Chicago were also in denial and couldn’t imagine a famous airport like Meigs Field could close, leaving their planes stranded on the tarmac. On March 30, 2003, Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered city crews to bulldoze the runways in the middle of the night. The following morning in a news conference Mayor Daley explained, “To do this any other way would have been needlessly contentious.” A column in The Chicago Tribune said this about Daley, “He ruined Meigs because he wanted to, because he could.”

Interestingly, the city paid back the grants. The Federal Aviation Association only fined Chicago $33,000 for closing an airport with a charted instrument approach without the required 30-day notice. (That’s a far cry from the $6.5 million the city of Naples, Fla., paid listening to Peter Kirsch, East Hampton’s aviation attorney, with no results.

Special-interest groups sued Chicago. The courts ruled the city was allowed to close the field. In this case, it was the act of one brazen man, perhaps crazy man. It was said the midnight bulldozing of Meigs Field was Mayor Daley’s signature act after 22 years in office.

The F.A.A. disregarded its obligations in agreements with 149 regional airports. Why should East Hampton Airport uphold its obligations with the F.A.A.? On March 22, 2013, the F.A.A. informed 149 regional airports it will begin closing contracted air traffic control towers. The transportation secretary called it “difficult choices that we have to make” in total disregard of its obligations in 149 agreements with regional airports. A firestorm ensued, forcing the U.S. Transportation Department to keep the 149 towers open until Sept. 30, 2013. The decision has not been rescinded.

East Hampton’s local pilots should know there is a national crisis of airport closures for the same reasons residents in East Hampton, Southampton, Shelter Island, and the North Fork are as mad as hell about East Hampton Airport. In fact, this crisis is top priority for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. So much of a priority that over 1,500 A.O.P.A. members are part of the A.O.P.A. Airport Support Network. The association director, Stacy Swigart, said, “These dedicated A.O.P.A. members serve as the association’s front-line defense against airport closure because they alert A.O.P.A. of any threats, gather local pilot support, and influence local government officials.”

The problem is, East Hampton local pilots don’t have a solution. If local pilots downloaded and read A.O.P.A.’s Guide for Airport Advocates, they would know East Hampton Airport is doomed for closure. Local pilots can only fabricate baseless propaganda. Noise abatement is a failed policy all over the country. According to the A.O.P.A., noise is one of the top three causes of airport closures nationally. Is it possible I am doing more to save the airport from closure than local pilots by advocating the elimination of the greatest offender of noise, helicopters? That is one viable solution local pilots refuse to consider.

It’s not silly anymore. It’s getting very crazy at East Hampton Town Board meetings. I give credit where credit is due. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson did a miraculous job solving the financial problems of the town. I give him props; however, it appears the financial problems are now dwarfed by the problems at the airport. I am afraid solving the financial problems are no longer his signature act. The supervisor promised after he solved the financial problems he would solve the number-two problem, the airport. I agreed with that approach but he has not engaged to solve the airport problems. Shouting back at the public only further antagonizes the public. This may be the real question: Is the supervisor only a one-trick pony?

It’s silly that local pilots support expanding operations of noisy, dirty aircraft ferrying selfish, inconsiderate people to and from East Hampton Airport. It’s not sustainable. It’s silly that local pilots believe the airport can’t be shut down. It happened in Chicago and all over the country. It’s silly that local pilots believe East Hampton Airport can’t close due to town obligations in F.A.A. agreements. Both F.A.A. and municipalities around the country break their agreements with each other with no apparent repercussions. It’s silly that local pilots believe noise abatement will solve the problem. Noise abatement is a failed policy at East Hampton Airport, Naples Airport, Santa Monica Airport, and hundreds of airports around the country.

It’s so silly that local pilots offer no solution to East Hampton Airport problems. More of the same will surely cause the airport to close. If it wasn’t so silly, it would be crazy.