Software Tracks Traffic, Complaints At East Hampton Airport

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What happens when a Noyac resident calls in a complaint to East Hampton Airport about helicopter noise that was just too unsettling?

All of the information provided by that caller is tracked, checked out and archived. All calls are screened by an airport management employee who has the ability to check which flight was the culprit and, if necessary, talk with the pilot to solve the problem.

These capabilities are important to the airport’s daily operation, according to airport manager Jim Brundige, who has asked the town to continue to budget for these interactive flight programs.

“For an airport this size, this is sophisticated technology,” he said inside his office at the airport recently. “Without the tracking system we would be blind to where the aircraft fly in the sky. There is no radar over the East End of Long Island. The system is also necessary in order to manage any kind of noise mitigation program.”

PlaneNoise, the program the airport uses to monitor noise complaints, collects voice mails and transcribes each message so that airport personnel can look at each individual case.

For example, a Lincoln Street resident of Sag Harbor left a noise complaint on January 27.

Since the program tracked the address where the call came from and the time the offending noise occurred, Mr. Brundige and airport attendant Jemille Charlton were able to find the specific flight that had a route over that Lincoln Street home, as well as its altitude and air speed on another program, called Exelis Airscene Aircraft Tracking.

In another case, they discovered that a repeat offender pilot did not take off over Georgica Pond as high as he should have, resulting in another noise complaint.

Mr. Brundige said the pilot was supposed to be at least 1,200 feet when flying over Georgica Pond. He was flying at 800 feet.

“We just want to be cooperative with the pilots,” he said. “Most really want to help because they know that we are under pressure by the community.”

Additionally, the airport’s management is able to see where it gets the most complaints from and how many, thanks to PlaneNoise.

In 2013, there were 3,400 complaints, most concerning helicopter noise over Sag Harbor and Noyac, Mr. Brundige said.

Last August, there were 38 noise complaints, including 12 from Sag Harbor, over which helicopters typically depart. Mr. Brundige said most of those complaints are sight complaints, meaning someone saw a helicopter and complained.

He said airport management asks the pilots to fly higher in these cases or works with them to find different routes.

Mr. Brundige said that in 2012 there were 3,681 helicopter complaints, and that there were 1,817 in 2013. He attributed the decrease to continued efforts to work with the pilots, which is made possible by the airport’s interactive programs.

Airport staff is able to take a screen shot with Exelis of an offending pilot, for example, and send it to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

At the end of January, Mr. Brundige said the airport had logged 22 complaints.

“The pilots know someone is watching,” he said.

Keeping such good track of every flight wouldn’t be possible without Exelis, he said. Not only does the program keep track of incoming and outgoing flights, it archives them for three years.

Vector Airport Solutions also keeps things running smoothly at East Hampton Airport, Mr. Brundige said. This program captures all takeoffs and landings 24/7 and automatically charges landing fees. He said Vector is needed because there are some flights that airport cameras might miss, typically helicopters.

“We don’t have a 24-hour staff,” he said. “We missed a fair amount of landings prior to engaging [Vector].”

The East Hampton Town Board just approved the renewal of Exelis at its regular meeting last Thursday. The two-year contract comes at a cost of $106,741.

PlaneNoise and Vector’s contract renewals are still under consideration by the town. According to Mr. Brundige, to renew the contract for PlaneNoise, the town may need to budget approximately $15,675. Vector may require approximately $14,033 for a renewal.

“These three programs complement each other,” Mr. Brundige said. “We draw on each one to get the big picture.”

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