Longtime East End news editor and pilot Peter Boody is champing at the bit to get to work at his new job as the senior airport attendant at the East Hampton Airport, where one of his responsibilities will be to respond to helicopter noise complaints.
Mr. Boody said he “sat up all night and I figured it out and I can’t wait to get started” as he gave a presentation on this summer’s voluntary helicopter approach routes to the East Hampton Town Board at their work session May 6.
Despite anecdotal accounts of constant of low-flying helicopter traffic, particularly over Noyac and the middle of the North Fork last year, Mr. Boody said the total number of noise complaints dropped from 11,000 in 2012 to just 6,700 last year.
“There are different ways to interpret it, but it’s generally fair to say it’s the step in the right direction,” said Mr. Boody.
The airport plans to keep the same three helicopter approach routes in place as last year, said Mr. Boody, but some changes will be afoot after Aug. 6, when the two-year old FAA-mandated north shore fly route is expected to sunset, said Jeff Smith of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, who joined Mr. Boody in the presentation.
What will be different is that helicopters will be expected to remain at higher altitudes on the approach to the airport, and to climb to higher altitudes while within the airport’s airspace before proceeding to the first waypoint on their departures.
“Our goal is to establish safe helicopter routes at the highest altitude with the lowest community impact,” said Mr. Boody. “There have been ups and downs over the past few years, but generally the trend is up in terms of altitude.”
The North Shore rule requires helicopters to fly at an altitude of 2,500 feet, one mile offshore along the entire North Shore until they reach their approach path to airports, said Mr. Smith, which is why the rule has given some comfort to the Gold Cost, but no relief at all to the North Fork, which sits on the direct approach to the East Hampton Airport.
“There’s a huge problem on the North Fork,” he said. After that rule expires, he said, the East Hampton Airport plans to recommend that heavy twin helicopters, which make up about 50 percent of the airport’s helicopter traffic, go around the east side of Shelter Island and up Plum Gut, avoiding the land mass of the North Fork.
This year, the airport will be using two departure routes, named the Echo route and the Sierra route after the NATO phonetic alphabet symbols for East and South.
Helicopters using the Echo route will be expected to climb to 2,000 feet before leaving the airport and then continue out across preserved land along Town Line Road, Barcelona Neck and over the South Ferry channel across to the North Fork. By the time they reach Barcelona Neck, they’ll be expected to be at an altitude of 3,000 feet.
The Sierra route, over Georgica pond, was long believed to be less preferable to pilots, with much public speculation that the wealthy residents of Georgica had been lobbying to keep helicopters from flying over their houses.
But Mr. Boody said that route, along which helicopters reach 2,000 feet over the cut from Georgica Pond to the ocean and then continue to climb to 3,000 feet as they turn to the west toward New York City, has begun gaining traction with pilots. He estimated that about 30 percent of arriving and departing helicopters are now using the Sierra route.
The helicopters are unable to climb as quickly on this route because of other air traffic close to the airport, said Mr. Smith.
“I’m surprised at how few noise complaints are from the shoreline at Georgica,” said Mr. Boody. “When they cut the corner and fly too low, we get complaints from Wainscott.”
“Precision is important,” he added. “It doesn’t work unless these guys fly these routes precisely. The challenge is they’re voluntary.”
There are three approach routes to the airport, including the Echo and Sierra routes and the November northern route, first established in 2003, in which arriving helicopters will be expected to come in over Nassau Point on the North Fork at or above 3,500 feet.
Last year, said Mr. Boody, they came in at 2,500 feet on that route.
“That’s new this year,” he said of the higher altitude. “Jeff has been pushing his membership higher and higher.”
Helicopters on that route will descend to about 3,000 feet by the time they reach the clay pit at Golf at the Bridge in Noyac, and then to about 2,500 feet while crossing Long Pond until they begin their descent a couple miles from the airport.
Mr. Boody said one of his new jobs will be to serve as the airport’s noise abatement officer. When complaints come in, he is able to track the path of the offending helicopter and speak with the pilot about the noise complaints.
“It’s remarkable how much eagerness there is to comply,” he said. “In the busy season, people do cut corners or get sloppy. In general, the routes are being followed.”
Members of the town board urged people who have difficulty with helicopter nose this summer to call the airport noise abatement hotline at 1.800.376.4817.