Appeals Court Blocks East Hampton Airport from Limiting Noisy Flights

NOVEMBER 4, 2016

A federal appeals court ruled today that the town of East Hampton, in New York's Long Island, cannot enforce three local laws designed to limit noisy aircraft at its airport. By a 3-0 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ordered a preliminary injunction against enforcing the laws. The court ruled that East Hampton adopted the limitations without complying with the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. That Act established rules that have made it tough for cities and counties that own airports to restrict noisy aircraft operating at their airports.

In April 2015 the town board of East Hampton had restricted what it considered noisy aircraft to one takeoff and landing per week from May to September. It also imposed a curfew on all flights from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and an even stricter curfew, from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m., on noisy flights. During the summer the town's year-round population of 21,500 increases dramatically to about 94,000, as the town is a popular summer residence for celebrities and the wealthy. Permanent local residents complain that the noise problem is aggravated in the summer because wealthy people charter planes and helicopters to get to the Hamptons.

In June 2015 U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert had blocked enforcement of the limits on the number of flights while allowing the nighttime curfews (see "Court Upholds Curfew for Noisy Aircraft in East Hampton"). The Court of Appeals ruled that all of the town's restrictions are unlawful.

Circuit Judge Reena Raggi wrote that Congress intended when passing the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 that airport noise policies be set at the national level. "ANCA establishes what Congress thought were necessary procedures for a reasonable exercise of proprietary authority within the national aviation system," Raggi wrote.

East Hampton had argued that it was able to act without FAA approval because it accepted no federal funding for its airport.

"The town is deeply disappointed" in the decision, Michael Sendlenski, the town attorney, said in a statement Friday afternoon. "Although today’s court decision places the solution to the aviation noise problem firmly at the feet of Congress and the F.A.A.," Mr. Sendlenski wrote, "the town will continue to explore every available option so that the residents of the East End won’t continue to be inflicted by an unrelenting din from the skies above."

Case information: Friends of the East Hampton Airport Inc et al. v. Town of East Hampton, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 15-2334, 15-2465.

Sources: Various on-line reports and court records.