A Federal Aviation Administration official recently told a group of East End leaders that a decision to approve a four-year extension of the current New York North Shore Helicopter Route was done as a result of political pressure from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, according to Congressman Lee Zeldin.
Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley) held a press conference Monday at Riverhead Town Hall after meeting with FAA officials and local leaders — including Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter — to discuss the East End’s ongoing helicopter noise problem.
Mr. Zeldin said he had been under the impression that Mr. Schumer, a Democrat, was working with East End officials to alleviate aviation noise based on comments his office has made publicly such as supporting alternative routes.
A spokesperson for Mr. Schumer issued a statement explaining that while he lobbied for an extension of the North Shore route, he also lobbied for that route to require helicopters to fly around Plum Island — eliminating loopholes that allow them to fly over homes on the North Fork — and that he also pushed for a South Shore route over the Atlantic Ocean.
Those two options, which local officials have sought, were not included in the route the FAA adopted last month.
“Senator Schumer has long supported and fought for an all-over-water North Shore helicopter route that extends the current route past Orient Point and around Plum Island, as well as the establishment of an all-over-water south shore route,” the statement reads. “He strongly urged the FAA to expand the current North Shore route to help the thousands of East End residents who are continuously burdened by the constant drone of helicopter noise. He will continue to side with concerned residents to ensure their voices are heard.”
Mr. Zeldin identified the person who said the FAA’s decision was based on political pressure from Mr. Schumer as as Kenneth Ready, the FAA’s acting manager of its Airspace and Rules Team.
Mr. Ready did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Mr. Zeldin added Mr. Ready didn’t elaborate as to why Mr. Schumer supports the North Shore route extension.
An FAA rule approved in 2012 and commonly referred to as the mandated “North Shore route” requires helicopters to fly over the water across Long Island Sound — one mile offshore — and to go around Orient Point rather than fly over houses.
But the rule allows pilots to deviate from the route when required for safety reasons, weather conditions or to transition.
Local officials have said this only makes the situation worse, since it allows helicopters to cut across the North Fork on their way to East Hampton Airport in Wainscott as they transition south.
Mr. Zeldin and other local officials are asking the FAA to require helicopter and sea plane pilots to travel around Orient Point or fly along a South Shore route over the Atlantic Ocean.
“Traffic flying to the South Shore should fly over the ocean,” Mr. Zeldin said. “There is no need for all of this traffic to be flying over the North Shore.”
He said calls for public input on the decision to extend the route have been “flatly refused.”
“The FAA is treating the American public as if it is the enemy,” he said.
As for the next step, he suggested litigation is a possibility, as is legislation to require helicopters to fly over the water.
He said he’d also like to see the FAA administrator, Michael Huerta, step down.
Mr. Walter, a Republican, suggested that people protest outside the offices of Mr. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Brunswick) on the issue.
“When we got the news that they were extending the North Shore route by four years,” explained Republican Southold Councilman Bob Ghosio during the press conference, “it was obvious that something was up and that this was a political issue.”
Teresa McKaskie, a Mattituck resident who chairs Southold Town’s Helicopter Steering Committee Coalition, said after the press conference she’s “extremely disappointed” with the FAA’s decision.
“We desperately need relief on the East End of Long Island,” she said.
Photo: Congressman Lee Zeldin, left, at Monday’s press conference in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)