A public hearing on changes at the Kingston-Ulster Airport at 1161 Flatbush Road in the town of Ulster in late August raised concerns from a pair of local residents about an increase in air traffic, particularly helicopters. “This was originally an airport for general aviation,” said area resident Stewart Dean. “It’s turning into an airport for heavy commercial use.”
The public hearing, held during an Ulster Town Board meeting on Thursday, August 18, focused on a recently completed helipad at the airport, which saw its ownership transfer to an investment group led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt last month.
Ulster Town Supervisor James E. Quigley III stressed that the public hearing was narrow in scope. “It should be noted that this is a parcel separate and distinct from the existing airport parcel, which has been in existence for many, many years prior to zoning,” Quigley said. “This public hearing tonight does not affect the operations of the airport, but merely the operation of the adjacent property where a barn was built under a building permit for the storage of helicopters, which therefore constitutes aviation use under the zoning code and requires a special use permit.”
According to Todd Coggeshall, manager of the airport, the heliport and helicopter storage had already passed muster with the Federal Aviation Administration. “The FAA has visited the site and approved it for aviation use, including giving a letter of determination,” he said. “So the facility is ready for use in the eyes of the FAA. And we come before the town board to seek the special permit, uh, to close the loop and cross the T’s and dot the I’s, so to speak.”
But Dean said that noise primarily from helicopters can cause a disturbance for nearby residents.
“Are there any limitations on the size and weight of helicopters and…fixed-wing aircraft?” Dean asked. “That airport was built with our tax dollars. It used to have a very shoddy runway, and you could look down it and it was like a rollercoaster…And now these good people are looking to make a dollar and enjoy their particular passion. But I think there should be limits put to it, [so] that there might be scheduling and noise limitations on how the airport can be used.”
Quigley said that the runway and associated infrastructure had met with FAA design standards for fixed-wing aircraft in Airplane Design Groups 1 (wingspan of less than 49 feet, such as a Cessna 172 Skyhawk) and 2 (wingspan of less than 79 feet, like a Beechcraft King Air or a Cessna Caravan). “Helicopters as well as airplanes are allowed to use the airport based upon their maximum gross weight, not to exceed 12,500 pounds per wheel,” Quigley added.
Coggeshall said that the helipad and helicopter storage barn are for private use by “light helicopters” and include a Bell 429, an A-Star (Airbus AS350), a Robinson R44 and a Hughes OH-6, “which is a notoriously quiet aircraft…we’re not talking about hangaring (Sikorsky) UH-60 (Black Hawk) aircraft, which frequently visit the public use side of the airport. Basically the tenants are the owners of these light aircraft and they will be the ones that are using them.”
Coggeshall added that State Police and Army National Guard helicopters occasionally perform “touch-and-go” landings (“maybe once or twice over the past six months”), but use the main runway at the airport, not the helipad.