09/17/12 9:17am
09/17/2012 9:17 AM

To the Editor:

It’s apparent that many North Fork residents are still getting bombarded with various aircraft noise. The newest helicopter regulation approved in August simply pushed the helicopter flight pattern farther east.

All towns east of Manorville would be considered “transition” areas, which would permit pilots to cross to East Hampton Airport, the Southampton heliport and Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach. This should have never been approved.

For years, North Fork residents have requested helicopter pilots to fly over the Sound and around Orient Point, or on the South Shore route. Due to FAA and JFK airspace regulations, the southern route is very limited. According to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, one major helicopter company, Liberty Helicopters, has signed an agreement to use the South Shore route.

If one company is permitted to take that route, why can’t others? The North Fork cannot continue to be used for entry and exit points to the South Fork.

It is critical that residents contact their elected officials. Question why these helicopters have to fly over our schools. What is this doing to our environment?

Inquire as to why the county is not enforcing a 2009 law making it illegal to fly a helicopter “in a manner that creates a hazard or undue hardship for persons and property on the surface.” It carries a $1,000 fine for each violation.

To file complaints via the Web, please go to helicopternoise@mail.house.gov or call 537-loud (5683) or 1-800-376-4817. Details should include your name, address, town, phone number, date and time of occurrence, direction and any description of the aircraft. A tail number (NR#) is best.

If you get the tail number, go to faa.gov. There is a box on the opening page which reads “N-number inquiry.” All aircraft details will become available to you.

The FAA also has a noise complaint line at 718-553-3365, but those reports are not investigated or responded to. To file a complaint about an unsafe aircraft, call 755-1300. You can also join the Quiet Skies Coalition at quietskiescoalition.org. Federal aviation regulations can be found there.

Teresa McCaskie, Mattituck

02/01/12 3:39pm
02/01/2012 3:39 PM

JOHN DUNN PHOTO | Senator Charles Schumer at a helicopter noise news conference in Port Washington last year.

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to adopt the proposed North Shore helicopter route, designed to lessen helicopter noise over residences, by July 4, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.

The route would require helicopters to fly offshore and at an altitude of at least 2,500 feet. But one local helicopter noise activist said the move is all but meaningless for the East End because it does not address the issue of helicopters crossing the North Fork on their way to the Hamptons.

The FAA, said Mr. LaHood, “is 100 percent committed to finalizing regulations on the use of the North Shore route by helicopters.

The proposed rule would require helicopters to fly over water rather than land and at a high enough altitude to reduce noise when flying over Long Island. Working with all stakeholders, we intend to have a final rule by Memorial Day weekend, to go into effect before the Fourth of July.”

Mr. LaHood said he is working on North Shore plan specifics, as well as proposed over-water helicopter routes for the South Shore.

Mr. Schumer (D-Brooklyn) said he had hoped to get the helicopter route included in FAA’s 2011 Reauthorization Bill, but “it was blocked by the Republican-led House, at the industry’s behest.”

Because of this, he was then able to convince Mr. LaHood to enact the route as an FAA regulation, which does not require a vote of Congress.

“Secretary LaHood’s strong and unequivocal statement should serve as a wake-up call to the helicopter industry,” Mr. Schumer said. “Long Island will not continue to be the Wild West for low-flying, disruptive and noisy helicopters.”

The FAA’s plans do not sit well with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

“At Senator Schumer’s request, in 2007 we agreed to follow the North Shore route,” said council chairman Jeffrey Smith.

“Unfortunately, this restricted flight plan resulted in a highly concentrated and condensed flight pattern for all helicopters over the North Shore. This in turn created a higher frequency of noise for those residents affected and dramatically exacerbated the existing noise concerns.”

The ERHC recommends reinstating a “diversified route structure” that will distribute helicopter activity more evenly between the North Shore, the center of Long Island and the South Shore and alleviate the increase of helicopter traffic over one area.

Joseph Fischetti, a Southold engineer who represents Southold Town on helicopter noise issues, said the FAA’s action is no reason for the East End to celebrate.

The problem is not how high helicopters fly along the shore, but where they turn over land on the way to airports in Westhampton Beach and East Hampton, he said.

“The 2,500 feet on the North Shore is not going to help us,” he said.

He believes the answer is for the FAA to open a new South Shore helicopter route, since pilots routinely follow the North Shore and turn south over Mattituck and Cutchogue, to take advantage of an approved helicopter route through LaGuardia Airport in northern Queens.

“If it’s easy to get through JFK, the pilots will use it,” Mr. Fischetti said. Since the copters are headed to South Fork destinations, it makes sense for the FAA to establish a viable South Shore route, he added.

The North Fork’s communities are not seeking to divert all helicopter flights, he noted.

“If we could mitigate some of this traffic by having some of them fly the southern route, we’ll do that,” said Mr. Fischetti. “We’ll take our share.”

Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, said residents there had many complaints about helicopter noise, although he said it had been reduced in the past year or so because some pilots had voluntarily agreed to fly offshore. He said the economy may also have muted the problem, as fewer people can afford helicopters.

As for Mr. LaHood’s announcement, Mr. Bail said he’s “cautiously optimistic. We have to see the details. My concern is that they are going to resolve the problem for Nassau County and western Suffolk and neglect the East End.”

County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who has been working for several years to relieve helicopter noise problems in his district, also said he’s cautiously optimistic.

“We’ve been here before,” he said. In 2009, Mr. Schumer held a press conference in Smithtown to announce the new helicopter regulations that never became reality, Mr. Romaine said.

“I will give a lot of credit to Senator Schumer for persevering and getting Secretary LaHood to say he will issue the new routes,” Mr. Romaine said. “I’m very optimistic but I want to wait for the final regulations to come out in July.”

Mr. Romaine said the technology already exists to reduce helicopter noise by having them operate in what’s known as “whisper mode.”

He said some military and CIA helicopters already use this technology.

tgannon@timesreview.com

02/24/11 7:00am
02/24/2011 7:00 AM

JOHN DUNN PHOTO | Senator Charles Schumer at a news conference in Port Washington Feb. 18, announcing the Senate had passed an FAA Reauthorization Bill that ordered the FAA to impose mandatory rules to limit helicopter noise.

Championing Long Islanders who say that noise from passing helicopters is intolerable, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is trying to force the Federal Aviation Administration to implement rules to do something about it.

Sen. Schumer, declaring a “major breakthrough” in the effort to see something done by the FAA, said this week he had sponsored an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill that gives the agency a 12-month deadline to adopt regulations to reduce the amount of helicopter noise Long Islanders have to endure.

The senator’s amendment does not push for any specific regulations, including a rule proposed by the FAA at his urging last May that  would make mandatory a currently voluntary North Shore helicopter pathway a mile offshore over Long Island sound from Oyster Bay to Orient Point. The proposal was opposed not only by helicopter operators but North Shore residents.

The Senate passed the bill on Feb. 17. The full House has yet to consider its version, which does not include a similar amendment. A spokesman for Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said he would try to add identical language to the House bill, which probably will not come up for a vote for several months.

If the Republican leadership does not allow for amendments, Mr. Bishop’s spokesman said, the Schumer provision would still be on the table when a House and Senate conference committee negotiates a final version to be submitted to the president for his signature.

In addition to setting a deadline, the Schumer amendment “provides explicit legal authority for the FAA to implement helicopter flight regulations, shielding the agency from potential litigation,” according to Sen. Schumer’s office.

Published last May, the FAA’s proposed rule making the North Shore route mandatory remains “under review,” according to an FAA spokesperson. The spokesperson would not say why or comment on any legislation pending in Congress. A comment period on the proposal ended last summer. Sen. Schumer himself wrote in opposition to the proposal after it became clear many Long Islanders did not want all helicopter traffic concentrated on one route.

Helicopter and aviation industry organizations also have opposed the rule, saying it would create a collision hazard by concentrating traffic, and that it would raise costs by requiring more fuel as well as GPS equipment for precise for navigation.

Some critics questioned the FAA’s authority to mandate fixed routes and minimum altitudes for helicopters operating under “visual flight rules,” which normally allow helicopter pilots wide discretion in dealing with navigation, weather and other concerns.

Sen. Schumer said his amendment to the FAA bill “puts all ambiguity aside and for the first time gives the FAA unquestionable authority to put helicopter regulations in effect while providing a hard and fast deadline to start providing some relief from ear-shattering helicopter noise.”

The current voluntary North Shore route puts traffic at least a mile offshore, and at least 2,500 feet high, between Nassau County and Orient Point. However, pilots may turn inland when they are approaching their destinations — either Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, a helipad on Dune Road in Southampton or East Hampton Airport — where most helicopters bound for the East End are headed.

That means North Fork, Shelter Island and some South Fork residents are still exposed to noise from helicopters passing overhead.

East Hampton town and Suffolk County officials have established voluntary East End arrival and departure routes aimed at reducing helicopter noise from those overflights. They call on pilots heading east to cross the North Shore at the mostly undeveloped former Grumman property in Calverton and avoid the most populated areas as they fly to Gabreski Airport. Pilots heading further east are asked to follow Sunrise Highway to Shinnecock Canal then continue offshore, over Peconic Bay, through the South Ferry channel between Shelter Island and the South Fork before turning south and inland near Sag Harbor toward East Hampton Airport.

Many pilots heading to East Hampton ignore the voluntary route that calls for a turn inland at Calverton. They continue east off the North Shore and turn inland over the North Fork because a it’s shorter route.

02/21/11 9:39pm
02/21/2011 9:39 PM

Employing language much favored by political figures, Senator Chuck Schumer has announced that the bill recently passed by the Senate funding the Federal Aviation Administration represents a “major breakthrough” in the effort to control the noise made by helicopters crossing the North Fork on the way to and from East Hampton and Southampton. The senator added an amendment ordering the FAA to come up with rules that address the noise problem within 12 months. The extremely noisy aircraft now cross over the North Fork wherever a pilot sees fit. A designated flight path that keeps the copters out over the Sound until they reach Plum Gut is voluntarily and hardly, if ever, used.

A major breakthrough? Not quite, since the House of Representatives has yet to take up that authorization bill. How the measure might fare there is anyone’s guess, but there’s reason for concern given the new GOP majority’s strong pro-business tilt. Within the past week the North Fork suffered a significant setback in the House when that chamber agreed to maintain funding for a new animal disease research center in Kansas — in the heart of cattle country, of all places — to replace the Plum Island lab.
Then there’s the East Hampton town councilman’s admission that a number of his constituents have attorneys lined up to fight any flight path switch that would put the helicopters over their homes.

Something tells us we’re in for a long, bumpy flight.