Cheaper tower proposal for airport

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Getting a seasonal control tower to manage East Hampton Airport’s heavy traffic flow in summertime may be easier, and a lot cheaper, than previously thought.

Airport manager Jim Brundige told members of the Town Board on Tuesday that the seasonal control tower could cost just over $100,000 a year for a tower that would operate for 10 hours a day between May and October. It would be funded through airport revenues and wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything, he said.

The board has been discussing the addition of a control tower for several months as a possible way to reduce the noise impact of the airport on the surrounding neighborhoods.

A control tower sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration would have control of all aircraft within a five-mile radius of the airport, up to a height of 2,500 feet, and could guide them along specific flight paths that could be established to minimize noise for residents.

“A tower would give us an enormous jump on noise abatement,” Mr. Brundige said. “Some people say a tower will draw more traffic … but that argument is not valid in my mind.”

Mr. Brundige said that a tower was initially expected to cost as much as $400,000 for six months of operation. But he said he recently was contacted by a company that runs the control tower at the county-owned Gabreski Airport in Westhampton. It offered to set up a tower at East Hampton Airport for $106,000 a year, he said. Dynamic Sciences said it would handle all the FAA applications and paperwork to create the necessary “control zone” around the airport with the FAA.

Mr. Brundige said the airport will have a surplus of about $100,000 in 2008 and is raising landing fees for the 2009 season. The FAA and a separate federal program for the development of control towers, he added, could potentially cover all the annual costs.

The town would have to put out an official request for bids for the tower’s operation but Mr. Brundige said the Dynamic Sciences offer is well below the costs he’s heard about from other companies.

The control room would not actually require a tower; it would be housed in a portable trailer parked on the airport property and staffed by one or two operators, Mr. Brundige told the Town Board.

East Hampton Airport has seen its traffic load skyrocket in the last 10 years, reaching some 200 take-offs and landings a day in the peak summer season. A surge in helicopter traffic over the decade has driven widespread complaints about noise from residents who live as far away as Noyac and the North Fork. A tower, proponents have said, would allow the controllers to require arriving and departing aircraft to follow routes that keep them clear of residential areas.

“You’re talking about major noise control,” Councilwoman Pat Mansir said on Tuesday after hearing Mr. Brundige’s report.

“I think it will be huge,” Mr. Brundige said.

MICHAEL WRIGHT

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