Congressman Zeldin eyes FAA changes to curb helicopter noise

A full house turned out for Southold Voice's annual meeting Saturday, where the subject of helicopter noise was discussed

“We want to know when will it end?” asked Marie Beninati, the co-chair of the non-profit group Southold Voice at its annual meeting Saturday.

She was beginning a discussion on the subject of excessive aircraft noise in Southold Town. 

Residents say that despite a number of attempts, both locally and federally, to curb helicopter noise on the East End, it’s still a problem.

“The North Fork does not have an airport and does not generate air traffic, yet airplanes and helicopters are increasingly plaguing the peace and quiet of our skies as we become the corridor for traffic from the Hamptons and, I’m sure, elsewhere,” said Ms. Beninati, who described Southold Voice as “a nonprofit organization that promotes awareness of issues that affect shoreline and marine resources, and that proactively advocates a balance between regulatory issues and property rights for the benefit of the community.”

Ms. Beninati said she counted 17 aircraft flying over the Cedar Beach section of Southold on Monday morning.

Connie Carlin of Aquebogue said she’s having her house redone on the outside to install soundproofing.

“Just because of these damn helicopters,” she said.

Fighting back tears, Ms. Carlin said the stress from the noise has affected her health, and she was in the intensive care unit at Peconic Bay Medical Center earlier this year as a result.

“Why are we being burdened on the North Fork will all this (aircraft) traffic?” she asked, saying this is the worst year for helicopter traffic since 2010.

She said she counted 40 aircraft in one day recently.

Kevin Dowley from Congressman Zeldin's office discussed helicopter noise Saturday with Southold Voice. Photo by Tim Gannon
Kevin Dowling from Congressman Zeldin’s office, center, discussed helicopter noise Saturday with Southold Voice. Photo by Tim Gannon

Kevin Dowling, a legislative assistant to Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Mastic) on transportation issues told the group Saturday that aircraft noise complaints are occurring in communities all over the country, and that his boss intends to do something about it.

Mr. Dowling said officials hope to make reforms to the Federal Aviation Administration as a result of what some feel is its unresponsiveness to the complaints of residents about aircraft noise.

“When you have an intransigent federal agency that isn’t responding to the people and is not responding to the representatives who represent the people, we have, as Congress, the power of the purse,” Mr. Dowling said. “We control the purse strings, and in the appropriation bills this summer, we have the opportunity to tighten up the purse strings to make these agencies pay attention. The FAA has not been responsive, as you know.”

Recently, the Congressman was successful in getting the House of Representatives to approve a bill he sponsored which prohibited the FAA from spending money to take punitive action against East Hampton Town, which enacted curfews on aircraft using its airport, against FAA wishes.

Mr. Dowling said this legislation was “unprecedented” and had bipartisan support, although it still needs support in the U.S. Senate.

“The idea that if you do something to protect your own quality of life, that the government is going to sue you, with your own taxpayer money, is really unbelievable,” Mr. Dowling said.

Officials say the bulk of the helicopters flying over North Fork homes are heading to the East Hampton airport. A 2012 FAA rule, which was extended in 2014,  required helicopters to fly over the water on Long Island Sound, one mile off shore, and to go around Orient Point, rather than fly over houses, en route to the South Fork.

But the rule allows pilots to deviate from the route when required for reasons of safety, weather conditions, or transitioning to or from a destination or point of landing.

Local officials have said this only made the situation worse in Southold Town, since it allowed helicopters to cut across the town on their way to East Hampton.

Another change Mr. Zeldin would like to make would be to require all helicopters on both the North and South forks to fly over the water instead of over land and homes, according to Mr. Dowling.

“Having all-water approaches needs to be the gold standard for helicopters bound for East Hampton and other areas,” Mr. Dowling said. “We would like to see the North Fork taken off the table completely.”

In order for helicopters to fly over the Ocean on the South Shore, the FAA would have to clear air travel lanes for them first, because there is so much air traffic coming out of JFK airport in Queens, Mr. Dowling said.

If this could be done, “that would take the North Fork completely off the table,” Mr. Dowling said.

A Federal judge recently upheld East Hampton’s 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew and an even more restrictive curfew for “noisy aircraft,” after a pilot’s organization called Friends of East Hampton Airport filed suit against it.

Teresa McCaskie, chair of the Southold Town helicopter committee, which was formed to address helicopter noise complaints, said that when someone calls the FAA with a noise complaint, the recording says to file a complaint with, which she says it the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

“You’re having the fox watching the hen house,” she said, calling for an independent group to handle that responsibility.

She said there’s very little enforcement of existing rules.

“I’m at the point where in a few years you’re going to see a big fat ‘for sale’ sign in front of my house,” Ms. McCaskie said.

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Top caption: A full house turned out for Southold Voice’s annual meeting Saturday, where the subject of helicopter noise was discussed. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Correction: The name of Congressman Lee Zeldin’s legislative assistant was misspelled in an earlier version of this article. The assistant’s name is Kevin Dowling, not Kevin Downey or Dowley.