East Hampton Town will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling by a federal appeals court earlier this month that struck down the town’s limitations on aircraft traffic at East Hampton Airport.
Following a conference last week with the attorney representing the town in the lawsuit brought by a group of aviation companies, which challenges the town’s right to impose the restrictions, town officials announced on Wednesday morning, November 16, that it would be moving forward with the appeal to the highest court in the nation.
“We cannot let stand unchallenged a decision that completely federalizes our small community airport and strips the town of any meaningful local control of the town-owned airport,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said in a statement released by the town on Wednesday. “The import of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decision is to basically federalize every airport in the United States. This is an unreasonable outcome that should be overturned.”
The town had imposed three new limitations on aircraft use of the airport in the spring of 2015: a curfew barring all landings and takeoffs at the airport between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.; a second, more stringent curfew limiting “operations” by especially noisy aircraft to between the hours of 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.; and a restriction limiting certain aircraft to no more than one takeoff and one landing at the airport per week.
A group calling itself the Friends of East Hampton Airport, sponsored by a collection of charter aircraft carriers and other aviation companies, filed a lawsuit saying the restrictions overstepped the town’s authority under federal laws, which are intended to prevent small municipalities from restricting national aircraft travel.
A federal judge ordered that the limitation on the number of flights in a week should not be implemented until the lawsuit was adjudicated, but allowed the two curfews to be put in place.
Over the last two summers, consultants who tracked aircraft travel at the airport told the town that the curfews had been effective at reducing the noise impacts on residents who live under flight paths during the nighttime hours, and had been the catalyst for a switch to the use of fewer noisy aircraft, like helicopters, to avoid the more stringent curfew.
Last week, a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, ruled that the town did not have the authority under federal law to impose the curfews or the limitations on flights without the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The town had the option of requesting the Court of Appeals to reconsider the case or appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears only matters of law.
Mr. Cantwell said that just the request to the Supreme Court asking the case to be heard will cost the town about $50,000, but that if the Supreme Court were to accept the case, presenting it would send the total cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The town spent nearly $1 million in 2015 and 2016 fighting seven separate lawsuits related to operational changes at the airport in the last few years.
“I think that while appealing to the Supreme Court is a long shot and expensive, the issue of whether this is an FAA-controlled airport or an airport controlled locally is a critical issue,” Mr. Cantwell said. “Absent throwing up our hands and waving the white flag and turning over the keys to the FAA, we think this is worthy of the effort.”