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Helicopter Noise Task Force reports ‘not one thing has changed’

Riverhead residents say they’ve had little success trying to get the Federal Aviation Administration to do something about helicopters flying over their homes, and now some residents in Wading River say they’ve even seen an increase in overhead traffic. 

In 2012, The FAA approved a mandatory North Shore route for helicopters heading east on the North Fork that requires them to fly along the North Shore, one mile offshore, and then go completely around Orient Point in order to get to the South Fork.

But the requirement allows helicopters to deviate from the required route and altitude when necessary for safety reasons, weather conditions or transitioning to or from a destination or point of landing.

Local residents say very few helicopters or sea planes actually go around Orient Point because of these permitted deviations.

“Last Friday I spent the day at Orient Beach State Park and there was not one helicopter,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said. Meanwhile, he said, helicopters were “non-stop” in Aquebogue.

“This is called the North Shore helicopter route right here,” said John Cullen of Northville, chairman of Riverhead Town’s Helicopter Noise Task Force, pointing to a map at last Thursday’s Town Board work session. “Each and every helicopter on this route lands on the South Shore, yet they leave New York City, wrap around LaGuardia Airport and they make a turn right here, which goes right to my house and my community and the communities of Jamesport, Laurel and others.”

Mr. Cullen said he’s written more than 20 letters to the FAA and they haven’t responded to any them.

The goal of the task force is to have all helicopters and sea planes that land on the South Shore fly over the Atlantic Ocean for both arrivals and departures from their destination.

He said that over the past eight years, a massive number of complaints have been sent to the FAA on this issue, and yet “not one thing has changed.”

Currently, many planes headed for destinations in East Hampton or Southampton will fly along the North Shore and then turn south and fly over homes in Riverhead or Southold towns on their way to the South Fork.

If that isn’t possible, Mr. Cullen said, the task force will strongly recommend that East Hampton Town, the destination for many of the helicopters flying over the North Fork, close its airport in 2021.

East Hampton cannot do that before 2021 because it receives FAA funding, but it can after the funding expires in 2021 and the East Hampton Town Board has publicly discussed doing so, although no verdict has been reached.

Mr. Cullen said that on Monday morning between 6:45 and 7:50 a.m., a total of 14 helicopters flew over his home.

“I have a bull’s-eye on my house,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. I’m trying to get a little bit of quality of life back. That’s my goal.”

Officials say the Wading River area is now seeing more helicopter traffic as well, with helicopters turning south by Wading River.

“It seems to me there’s been more helicopter and seaplane overflights,” Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, said in an interview. “In most cases, it isn’t the altitude that’s the problem, it’s the noise. At 2,500 feet, it’s surprising how much noise helicopters can generate.”

Town Board members said that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-Brooklyn) met with Stephan Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive and former Air Force pilot who was recently sworn in as FAA administrator, and asked him to help with North Shore helicopter situation, but he would not.

Asked to confirm that Mr. Dickson said this, the FAA issued a statement saying: “We will neither confirm nor deny.”

Town Board members now plan to ask Mr. Schumer what his plan is “to continue the fight for Riverhead’s residents.”

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