Assault from the skies continues, despite court ruling

A lone helicopter sits benignly on the East Hampton tarmac, giving little indication of its bone-jarring noise potential, while seaplanes come and go.
A lone helicopter sits benignly on the East Hampton tarmac, giving little indication of its bone-jarring noise potential, while seaplanes come and go.

The sound of helicopter blades clacking in the skies appears to have outweighed the noise of a judge’s gavel, as East End residents again shut their doors and windows this weekend against the assault of air traffic en route to the East Hampton Airport.

While North Forkers, particularly in the Cutchogue and New Suffolk area, said they heard constant helicopter noise this weekend, the Quiet Skies Coalition, which monitors helicopter noise, reported Monday that helicopter noise is as endemic as ever throughout the East End.

“The weekend was a nightmare for many residents and beach-goers, trail walkers and others, from what we learned today. The consensus is that noise is getting worse, numbers are increasing, and flight data from the airport is questionable,” according to Quiet Skies Coalition’s Facebook page.

“This morning, departures began before the voluntary curfew ends, supposedly at 7.a.m. No sleep for those of us who make a living out here and need sleep uninterrupted to begin the week,” they added. “Seaplanes have been the cause of a huge number of complaints, many more this year than last season, even than last week. Yes, seaplanes are really bad, fly so low, they are probably just above the tree tops, but they seem at roof level at times, according to one of our members in the Noyac area. Those in Northwest [in East Hampton] are also complaining of seaplanes, and jets continue to blast the village area. Sag Harbor Village also saw a lot of low flying aircraft this weekend, to the anger of many residents there. And the North Fork continues to be HAMMERED, with no relief in sight.”

The East Hampton Airport. Everyone's favorite punching bag.
The East Hampton Airport. Everyone’s favorite punching bag.

Indeed, on a recent visit to the airport on an otherwise busy Friday evening, just one helicopter sat quietly on the tarmac, while several seaplanes took off and touched down amid a sea of jets.

“Jets continue to be a problem and the seaplanes are a growing menace, flying so very low as they so often do,” acknowledges the Quiet Skies Coalition. “While helicopters have hogged the news of late, due to their sheer volume, jets and planes are very much a part of the overall problem, we remain very much aware of that.”

In mid-July, a federal judge upheld the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to require that helicopters travel over water while en route to the East Hampton Airport, but most of the noise seems to be concentrated in areas along the immediate approach to the airport, in Noyac, Sag Harbor, the Northwest Woods of East Hampton and, on the North Fork, over Cutchogue, Peconic and New Suffolk.

Senator Charles Schumer pushed the FAA until they made the North Shore route mandatory in July of last year, but Helicopter Association International (HAI) filed a petition in May challenging the rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The federal court denied HAI’s petition on July 12.

The North Shore route, first established in 2008, requires helicopters to travel one mile offshore and at an elevation of 2,500 feet from a waypoint 20 miles northeast of Laguardia Airport (in Lloyd Harbor) to Orient Point. Pilots are allowed to deviate from that route, however, when making their final approach to an airport, which gives little comfort to communities along that final approach.

The FAA rule, available here, is clear on this point:

“Obviously all helicopter operators planning on landing on Long Island will, at some point, have to fly inland in order to land,” it reads. “Were there no provision to allow operators to leave the route to transit to their destination, the likely impact on a few communities, notably those near VPLYD [the initial waypoint in Lloyd Harbor] and Orient Point, would bear the brunt of the noise associated with the majority of helicopters flying over their communities.”

The rule continues: “Were the rule to require pilots to follow the route in its entirety without regard to their origin or destination, it would be reasonable to expect an increase in noise in communities near the route’s termination points (i.e., the VPLYD waypoint and Orient Point), due to the resulting concentration of operations entering and exiting the route at those locations. However, the rule allows pilots to deviate from the route when transitioning to or from a destination or point of landing.”

The rule also makes clear that it is the FAA’s position that aircraft noise is to be expected in communities near airports, though many East Enders don’t expect the little East Hampton Airport, which only has a seasonal control tower which was only put into use last year, to generate the amount of noise heard around, say, Laguardia Airport. It also includes provisions allowing pilots to deviate from the route in inclement weather.

Tired of making noise in your helicopter? Take your seaplane out for a whirl.
Tired of making noise in your helicopter? Take your seaplane out for a whirl.

“The FAA notes that it is likely noise impacts will be felt most keenly near airports or heliports, as the helicopters descend to land,” it reads. “Nothing in this rule makes that a unique phenomenon. Rather, aircraft noise is typically concentrated near airports, which is why the FAA typically addresses aircraft noise through the Airport Noise Compatibility Program.”

An armload of semi-pertinent information on the Airport Noise Compatibility Program is available here.

The North Shore route rule also says residents may see some relief in upcoming years, as quieter helicopters are phased into commercial fleets.

If all this sounds like cold consolation to East Enders whose ears are rattling, politicians still think more work should be done.

Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Tim Bishop announced July 24, a week after the federal ruling upholding the route, that they plan now to urge the FAA to issue similar regulations for the South Shore, and extend the North Shore route farther to both the east and the west.

“Now that it’s clear that the FAA has the authority to protect Long Islanders from the incessant and often deafening drone of low-flying helicopters, the FAA should move forward with over-the-water routes for the South Shore of Long Island and as well past the North Fork,” said Schumer in the July 24 announcement. “While it is good news that the fate of the ‘North Shore Route’ is now set in stone, the FAA should make sure that all residents living on the South and North Shores have the same relief as those between Huntington and Orient Point. With summer already underway, the FAA should step up to the plate and renew their efforts to move forward with these much-needed over-the-water helicopter routes.”

“The court’s ruling clears the way for new, stronger efforts to protect the residents of Eastern Long Island from helicopter noise,” said Congressman Bishop. “There is now no reason for the FAA to delay implementing new mandatory over-water routes that will better protect property owners’ right to quiet enjoyment, and I will continue pushing with Senator Schumer to provide relief for our neighbors who have suffered too long from this preventable problem.”

In the meantime, Mr. Bishop is urging anyone who is having trouble with aircraft noise to lodge a complaint at either the East Hampton Airport hotline at 1.800.376.4817 or Gabreski Airport at (631) 852.8095

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

2 thoughts on “Assault from the skies continues, despite court ruling

  • August 3, 2013 at 9:36 am
    Permalink

    Yeah, there has been no change here in Cutchogue. It’s so loud that if I’m talking on the phone, I have to wait until it passes overhead to continue the conversation.

    Reply
  • August 4, 2013 at 6:37 pm
    Permalink

    I thought it was just me, unwilling to believe that they’re flouting the ruling like this. I phoned in my complaints but I’ve always been skeptical that anybody listens to the messages.

    Reply

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