Trump Was Here

The Trump name is everywhere, on steaks, on schools, on beautiful chocolate cakes, on White House stationery, on hotels from Aspen to Azerbaijan. So why is the Trump name not in the Hamptons? Those who have been around for 30 years or more will remember that it actually once was here, helicoptering through the skies over the South Fork.

In 1989, Trump made the first of several attempts to bring his business to the East End with a venture called Trump Air, a private helicopter-shuttle service between New York and the Hamptons. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he stepped on some toes as he tried to get the service off the ground, running splashy, full-page ads in Manhattan newspapers before he had even applied for the requisite permissions from East Hampton Town, which owns East Hampton Airport (HTO). Supervisor Tony Bullock criticized Trump’s premature publicity campaign, using words like “arrogance” when he spoke to a reporter from The East Hampton Star about it: “That’s like announcing that you’ll be serving $2 Bloody Marys when you don’t have a liquor license.”

About a month after the Trump Air campaign went public, executives from the airline landed in a gleaming black five-blade Sikorsky S-61 to meet and discuss the plans with town officials. Trump was proposing eight weekly round trips between the West 30th Street Heliport and HTO, priced at $199 per person each way (a big ticket then, perhaps, but a bargain compared to a seat on today’s Blade flights, which can put you out $600 or more).

In the late 1980s, East Hampton Airport was little more than a hut near the runway, but it was already a flashpoint for controversy

The town board had reservations about Trump Air, and residents’ opinions of the proposal were conspicuously negative. A Star article from May 1989 describes the Trump helicopter descending “like a locust” on East Hampton. But the town, which received F.A.A. funds for HTO, had limited veto power. That federal assistance — and, yes, readers who follow these matters should be feeling a tingle of synchronicity with current headlines and airport headaches — obliged them to permit any licensed aircraft to land on East Hampton’s runways, unless the town could prove it was incompatible with the airport’s intended purpose or posed a significant risk to health and safety.

The Trump Air helicopters were, naturally, big. They were huge. Mega five-blade 24-seaters, they were by far the largest helicopters that had ever landed at our small airport, nearly twice the size of the eight-seaters that were standard in the 1980s and early 1990s. The town board and neighbors of the airport expressed vociferous concern about the noise these choppers were capable of producing — although a noise-meter reading showed their land ing volume to be quieter than that of a typical modest-sized jet. After multiple delays as the town deliberated, and the weather turned bad, Trump Air was given the all-clear in the spring of 1989.

Tony Bullock, then East Hampton's young supervisor, met Trump Air executives on the tarmac and negotiations began. 

In 1992, however, after not quite three seasons, Trump Air services were adandoned, never to resume. Mr. Trump had run into a spot of financial bother with his casino resorts in Atlantic City. That autumn, he was forced to cede a number of assets, including his yacht “Princess” (which had been spotted in Montauk), to creditors and to declare corporate bankruptcy for a second time.

But that wasn’t the last the East End saw of Donald J. Trump. About a decade ago, he was thwarted, narrowly, in an attempt to build one of his Trump-branded golf courses on the 300-acre bayfront property in Shinnecock Hills that is now home to the Sebonack Golf Club. While President Trump may have gotten the chilly shoulder from East Enders with these past forays — and while he may have failed at the election polls east of the Shinnecock Canal, too — he does have some very deep-pocketed supporters on Long Island, and we may not have seen the last of his gold-plated name yet.


Cornelia Channing

Our associate editor at EAST, Nina has written this year about land preservation, Montauk ghost stories, and Trump helicopters. Born and raised in Bridgehampton, she graduated from Wesleyan University in 2016 and is now an MFA candidate at Stony Brook Southampton. When she’s not working, she can be found driving to the beach in her Volvo station wagon with her dog, Tucker, riding shotgun.