As airports such as East Hampton (HTO) on Long Island, New York, and Santa Monica (SMO) in California face the specter of closure, general aviation leaders stress the need for continued advocacy and efforts to fly neighborly to try to secure the long-term future of those facilities. HTO is eligible to close on Sept. 25, 2021, when grant obligations expire, while SMO is free to close after Dec. 31, 2028, under a consent decree between the FAA and city of Santa Monica.
Local leaders at both facilities have indicated a desire to shutter the airports. But advocates emphasize that the fates of those airports are not sealed and there is room to continue to fight for their survival.
Speaking during an NBAA News Hour webinar on airport access Tuesday, Jeff Smith, chair of NBAA’s Access Committee and a chief pilot actively involved in the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, pointed out that the aviation community collaborated with air traffic control and local officials to develop an all overwater initiative recently at HTO because “we know, the operators know...that there’s an end date and we still have to mitigate and get this community compatibility going if we are going to save the airport.”
He noted that operations have changed over the past decades and as they have increased, so too have noise complaints. This became more difficult as mandatory North Shore routes changed traffic patterns, he said. Having said that, complaints don’t always correspond with operations at HTO, Smith said. “We have a huge problem with people running up noise complaints to further their agenda.”
But operators have continued to work to address concerns. “The operators are very compliant [with noise mitigation efforts]. Everyone understands what’s at stake. But they also understand and want to be good neighbors,” Smith said. A lot of times, people in communities don’t understand that pilots want to be good neighbors, he said, but “in fact most of the people coming in and out of East Hampton are residents…We’re doing everything we can to make sure there is a happy medium to where we can keep the airport open for years to come.”
Meanwhile, at SMO, Christian Fry, president of the Santa Monica Airport Association, said, “Our timeline feels equally as imminent but we’re on the better side of eight years.” Because of campaigns of some local leaders, many believe the airport already has closed, Fry said, but added SMO is still busy, hosting about 80,000 operations a year. However, the traffic mix has shifted to smaller jets with the shortening of the runway.
The airport is vulnerable because it is situated on valuable land that makes it desirable for redevelopment, particularly as California makes a push for low-cost housing, he said.
The airport does generate noise complaints, he said, but about 70 percent of complaints come from less than a half-dozen households, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of what noise complaints are. Even then, he said, the complaints are a small percentage and “we do a very good job with operators flying our noise-abatement procedures.”
Along with flying neighborly, local airport advocates are trying to emphasize the potential use for SMO for urban air mobility, which would make it much more accessible beyond current pilots.
“We’re working on trying to help people understand closure is not mandated,” he said, saying supporters must get the city council to reexamine and highlight that there are new technologies coming that make the local airport even more valuable.