East Hampton politicians’ scheme to close and then immediately reopen the town airport — and collect $10 million in surplus funds in the process — hit turbulence Wednesday when the Federal Aviation Administration sent a forceful point-by-point smackdown of the plan.
“The FAA was furious. They felt that they were strong-armed,” a New York aviation insider told the Post. “It’s extremely rare that the FAA ever sends a letter like this.”
The town’s board voted last month to close the decades-old East Hampton Airport on Feb. 28, and reopen on March 4, under private, town-controlled ownership, which is then expected to only allow privately-owned aircrafts to land on its tarmac — a move meant to appease the town’s super rich who own jets and choppers, while cutting down on noise pollution.
Closing the “old” airport would also allow the town to run off with the millions of extra cash meant for the shuttered airfield.
The FAA provided the Post with the letter it sent Wednesday to town executive Peter Van Scoyoc, which insiders say spells the end to any potential private plane plan, and that the agency says outlines only “some of the actions that need to be addressed.”
“In prior meetings, we offered the Town the opportunity to share the details of its legal theory with us as we consider this issue, for instance, providing statutory or case law support,” regional administrator Marie Kennington-Gardiner wrote, “but to date, you have not elected to do so.”
In the letter, the FAA warned East Hampton that it could take at least two years to reopen the town airport — not less than a week like the board has been promising — and said there’s a chance the airport would never reopen.
It also said the plan might “violate federal appropriations law” and could cost the agency money it doesn’t have to spend.
FAA officials have privately called the plan “reckless and ruthless,” the source said, added that the federal agency BCC’d the letter to scores of interested parties to make its feelings known.
Town officials were scared that billionaires like Mets owner Steve Cohen, Eric Schmidt, Bob Kraft, Ron Perelman and Ira Rennert — who all own their own aircrafts and fly to East Hampton regularly — would be outraged if the airport completely closed and might sue the local government, according to a source.
That’s why East Hampton hatched its plan to reopen the runway privately and make rules that would only cater to people like Rennert, who apparently paid $35 million for the largest civilian-owned helicopter in the world.
One high-flying local resident, metal mogul Andy Sabin, said East Hampton’s current plan and position misrepresents what’s happening.
“I like the town board people.” Sabin said, but “the only reason they want to open and close [the airport] is to snatch the $10 million in the FAA fund.”
Sabin — who has been coming to the Hamptons for nearly 50 years and anchored his business in the wealthy enclave — adds that if the airport closes, he’d consider moving his business to Florida, Texas or South Carolina. “I moved my business here which operates worldwide… because of the airport,” he said.
One long-standing aircraft operator in the Hamptons told the Post that “the last decade has built a market where people of certain means — the wealthy — expect to be able to bypass the traffic to reach their homes. That demand won’t disappear.”
The insider said he’s heard rumblings of outlandish alternatives if the airport closes, like a barge docked right off the coast for choppers to land.
The Town Board said Thursday it is undeterred by the FAA’s letter and plans to continue with the course ahead, opening the “new” airport on March 4.
“It is noteworthy that the FAA never once in its letter states that the new private use airport will not be available on March 4,” it said in a statement.
But the local aircraft operator told the Post he’s not sure if the board particularly cares if the airport even stays open.
“The people who run the town are very local. The board themselves are not using the airport,” he said.