‘So self-important’: Hamptons airport vote pits wealthy against super-rich

An extraordinary battle pitting New York multimillionaires against their billionaire neighbours is expected to reach fever pitch on Thursday when local politicians in the Hamptons vote on proposals to close an airport in the super-rich enclave.

The East Hampton town board is expected to vote in favour of a plan to “deactivate” the local airport that buzzes with helicopters and private jets ferrying the uber-wealthy from Manhattan to their luxury beach houses.

Residents who are wealthy enough to live in the Hamptons, but not enough to regularly fly in and out, have fought a months-long battle to close the airport that some claim has become so busy it is “like living near JFK”.

On the other side, billionaires who regularly use East Hampton airport have been funding a campaign to keep it open. Flight logs show aircraft belonging to the former Google chair Eric Schmidt, the hedge fund manager and New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, and the New York Patriots and New England Revolution owner Bob Kraft regularly use the airport.

The disagreement has been described as “the 2% v the 1%” and “the have-everythings v the have-a-lots”.

After months of fiery council debates, the town board has proposed a complicated compromise whereby the airport closes as a Federal Aviation Administration facility on 28 February but reopens a couple of weeks later as a “publicly owned private-use airport”. This would allow the town’s officials to limit traffic and noise.

Peter Van Scoyoc, the town’s supervisor, said: “The majority of the public has indicated that allowing the airport to continue operating as it has been is unacceptable, and that traffic volume, noise, environmental and safety concerns must be addressed.”

The proposed plan would “provide [the] town with maximum flexibility to enact use restrictions” while retaining the “right to close [the] new airport completely if limits don’t provide needed community relief”, he added.

The airport handled 31,464 flights in 2019, the latest year for which figures are available, up from 26,010 in 2015. Flights peaked at 266 a day in August 2019, according to a research paper published by the town.

During months of online meetings to discuss the plans, Barry Raebeck, the head of the campaign group Say No to KHTO (East Hampton airport’s code), said: “Somebody who’s flying in in a huge jet, they are so self-important. They look down their nose at the East Hampton town. They just think: ‘We’re so rich and powerful. We can do whatever we want. We’ll hire some lawyers and we’ll just sort this out later.’”

Another local resident said: “This airport serves a select few while dumping on the rest of this community. It has become unbearable and unsustainable. From Thursday to Monday we are subjected to an endless line of helicopters dumping on us from morning to night, with the heaviest traffic coming at times when we are trying to enjoy time with our family.”

Proponents for keeping the airport open in its current form said people arriving by air spend about $20m (£14.7m) a year in the town.

Comments are closed.