New chopper routes churn up worries

Helicopter traffic is once again causing a buzz along the North Shore.

And a proposal restricting Hamptons-bound helicopter flights from New York City has some community members concerned that the noise issues associated with summer air traffic will not end any time soon.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s office announced two weeks ago that the Federal Aviation Administration was releasing rules requiring helicopter pilots to adhere to a flight path out over the Long Island Sound when traveling to Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and East Hampton Airport. When turning south to fly over land, pilots will be required to maintain an altitude of 2,500-feet over less-populated areas.

But some are concerned that because the rules do not mention any specific transient points — or exit and entry points to land — the burden could shift to just a few communities such as those near the defunct Shoreham power plant, which has one of the largest unpopulated areas on the North Shore.

“That is supposedly not what is going to happen, but my question is, what is going to happen?” asked Sid Bail, a vice-president of the Wading River Civic Association. “What are the entry points? Are they up to the helicopter companies?”

For Mr. Bail the language in the proposed rules is just too vague.

“It may just be shifting the burden to less-populated areas and that would be an ill-defined concept,” Mr. Bail said.

State Assemblyman Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham) said he is not aware that Shoreham has been mentioned as a specific entry point, but recognized there are some concerns over the fight paths, which could start to take shape after the FAA’s public comment period on the proposed regulations that ends June 25. That said, Mr. Alessi explained, his office will be contacting his constituents urging them to weigh in with a letter or online.

“The overall message here is that the volunteer agreement was not perfect,” Mr. Alessi said of an agreement that was brokered years back between federal lawmakers and the FAA. “It was an improvement on nothing.”

“I do think that [the pending regulations] is a major victory.”

Mr. Alessi said he would advocate creating multiple exit points on both the north and south shores and require that those exit points only be accessed during certain times of the day. Should the finished FAA map reflect Shoreham as a specific entry point, Mr. Alessi said, “It is absolutely unacceptable.”

County Legislator Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) submitted his comments to the FAA and also urged his constituents to do the same. Mr. Romaine said the proposed rules need to be more clear so helicopter pilots understand the new procedure is required, not optional as they are now.

“Moreover, the decision of what is defined as an unpopulated area should not be left up to individual pilots,” Mr. Romaine stated. “The FAA should establish way points along unpopulated areas of the East End of Long Island that must be followed by pilots heading from the North Shore helicopter route to the South Fork. Leaving this discretion up to pilots will not significantly reduce the overflight burden that exists in parts of eastern Brookhaven, Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island, and Southampton.”

Mr. Romaine said he would advocate opening up the airspace surrounding JFK Airport in Queens so that a different flight path would be available over the Atlantic Ocean.

“Opening up JFK airspace would allow better access to the South Shore helicopter route and move helicopter traffic completely away from populated areas and out over the ocean,” Mr. Romaine stated.

Comments can be submitted online at, via fax at (202) 493-2231, or via mail by sending them to Docket Operations, M-30, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001. Refer to Document ID FAA-2010-0302-0001.

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