Reporter Editorial: Power play over helicopters

KYRIL BROMLEY, THE EAST HAMPTON PRESS  PHOTO | Aircraft at the East Hampton Airport

KYRIL BROMLEY, THE EAST HAMPTON PRESS PHOTO | Aircraft at the East Hampton Airport

One of the more interesting aspects of the helicopter noise issue this summer is that there are no villains in the drama.

What’s happening is a struggle where good and evil have little to do with the fight, even though all sides will enlist morality as one of their weapons.

It’s the same dynamic that’s played out whenever government, business interests and angry, organized people meet at a crossroads — whoever gets power, and knows how to use it, wins.

The location of the dispute is East Hampton Airport, where the great majority of flights coming from New York City — many of them helicopter flights — buzz loud and low over Shelter Island and other East End communities from Thursday afternoon to Monday mornings, bringing weekenders to the Hamptons.

Many people, rightly outraged at weekends spoiled by the constant din of aircraft noise, have castigated what they’ve termed the young, wealthy and obnoxious flying above them, who care little for anyone but their own preening selves.

They’re flown over our homes, the protestors say, by rapacious aircraft service providers. Some have even trashed the pilots for, well, making a living .

But those who provide the weekend flights — at increasingly cheaper fares due to technology and smart marketing — are not running nonprofits. They are savvy people who have found a way to increase their businesses by providing better service. Kind of like what is called “the American way.”

And the passengers —no matter if they’re wearing Prada with distressed jeans and carrying yappy little dogs in oversized purses —  are merely taking advantage of a quicker way to their weekend.

No one has broken any laws, even though people will complain that pilots are not following what really amounts to “voluntary” routes. The phrase is similar to the old movie tycoon Sam Goldwyn’s mangled but dead accurate statement that “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”

As for the Federal Aviation Administration, it’s the worst kept Washington secret that in addition to regulating aviation, the FAA is in the business of promoting it. This is not an altogether bad thing, with America leading the world from the beginning of manned flight, and the FAA helping with that booming growth.

But here is where power comes in and where the hammer might be handed to the people suffering the din of helicopter noise.

In January, control of the East Hampton airport could come under the jurisdiction of the Town Board, after nearly 20 years of the FAA calling the tune when it comes to hours of operation and types of aircraft that can land or take off. Last January, a new Democratic-led majority took office with airport control one of the major campaign issues. This board has kept the issue alive, and the public has responded with standing-room-only public meetings.

If in January, the board refuses FAA money, and thereby can legally refuse many FAA dictates, East Hampton can impose restrictions that would cut noise and traffic. A lawsuit is all but promised by aircraft service providers if the board acts.

But power will have shifted, and we urge the East Hampton Town Board to use it.