High Fliers Have Hamptons Residents at War With Each Other

·5 min read
AP Photo/Frank Eltman
AP Photo/Frank Eltman

There are two main airports in the wealthy enclave of East Hampton, New York, and now both are mired in turmoil.

East Hampton Airport, the larger of the pair, was already slogging through months of litigation over the town’s effort to curb relentless air traffic. Then, late last month, news broke that a mysterious buyer had swooped in to acquire nearby Montauk Airport—also located within East Hampton—sending some residents reeling over the possibility that an unnamed tycoon would get to dictate its rules.

As the summer heats up, and the ultra-rich descend via choppers and private planes, locals are girding for battle.

“It’s just a quality-of-life issue,” Montauk resident Bonnie Brady said of the noise. “Your entire summer you literally can’t hear yourself think.”

The tumult started in January, when the town announced that it would close the public East Hampton Airport and reopen it as a private entity; any aircraft that wanted to use the facility would need advance permission. That, officials apparently believed, would solve at least part of the issue.

But the next month, eight plaintiffs (including Brady) sued the town, its board, and the town supervisor, arguing in part that the plan would simply offload plane congestion to neighboring airports like Montauk.

“We've already got huge summertime traffic,” Brady told The Daily Beast. She emphasized that she understands why some residents closer to East Hampton Airport want to reduce noise pollution but feels “there has to be a way to fix it so that you don't just spread the misery.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Aircraft parked at the East Hampton airport.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Quintin Soloviev/Wikimedia Commons</div>

Aircraft parked at the East Hampton airport.

Quintin Soloviev/Wikimedia Commons

Another plaintiff, Blade Air Mobility, argued in court that the privatization plan would effectively prevent it from operating out of East Hampton Airport. For roughly $1,000, Blade shuttles Manhattanites to East Hampton in just 40 minutes, enabling its customers to dodge hours of traffic.

Other aggrieved residents have filed separate lawsuits over the planned closure as well, arguing that it may hurt local businesses.

The Hamptons, long a mecca for the deep-pocketed, exploded in popularity during the pandemic as wealthy city-dwellers spent more time in their second homes or moved there altogether. Rental prices have dropped off from their peak, though ultra-high-end oceanside mansions are still being advertised for $1 million per month or more.

Last year, there were 32,298 flight operations logged in East Hampton, town documents show, up 27 percent from 2020—part of the reason officials have been eager to rein in activity. Total flights peaked in August last year, at 6,138, about seven times the volume as February. (Historically, the town population has reportedly quadrupled during the on-season.)

In May, Judge Paul Baisley weighed in on the airport controversy following a blizzard of legal filings. He issued a temporary restraining order preventing the town from closing the airport or “implementing any of the new uses restrictions.”

According to the plaintiffs, East Hampton did so anyway. In a June filing calling for the town and its officials to be held in contempt, the plaintiffs argued that, “for the first time ever,” the town had begun forcing aircraft “to power down completely before loading and unloading passengers…effectively doubling the amount of time these aircraft must remain grounded between flights.”

The plaintiffs offered additional examples to support their claim that East Hampton was flouting Judge Baisley’s orders with new restrictions. “By hook or by crook, it is hell-bent on curtailing this Airport’s use, even if it has to destroy the Airport to get there,” they wrote.

The court has not yet issued a decision on the matter. An official in the East Hampton Supervisor’s office declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Adding to the upheaval is the new mystery owner of Montauk Airport and what regulations, if any, they will seek to enforce.

The buyer—who reportedly spent roughly $14 million on the airport—has yet to come forward. Even Montauk Airport’s new manager, Neil Blainey, told The Daily Beast that he doesn’t know the owner’s identity.

Some East Hampton residents criticized the town for failing to acquire the airport, which would have granted it additional control over its airspace. Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc pushed back, saying in a press release that the town had tried to pursue that as early as 2019.

The issue, he said in comments reported by the local outlet 27East, was that the previous owners wanted to complete the deal in stock in order to capture capital gains tax benefits that could be worth millions of dollars. But the town was legally precluded from engaging in that type of deal, he said.

It remains to be seen what happens under new management. Blainey, meanwhile, weighed in on the hubbub over at East Hampton Airport, arguing that closing it would be counterproductive by preventing the town from exerting any influence over air traffic. Aggrieved pilots forced to reroute to Montauk might choose to fly straight down Main Street, just to stick it to locals, he said: “It seems to me like they’re gonna shoot themselves in the foot if they actually do close.”

Brady, as expected, also pushed for the airport to continue operating, lest the skies become even noisier near her Montauk home.

“I don’t think anyone would want to live that way,” she said. “Especially when you’ve lived here for such a length of time… And suddenly, poof, it’s Apocalypse Now.”

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