East Hampton & Airport Restriction Opponents Head to Court Monday; Restrictions Could Be In Effect By May 19

Gotham Air East Hampton Quiet Helicopter
One helicopter company, Gotham Air, has outfitted a fleet of quiet helicopters for use on their East Hampton runs this summer | Gotham Air photo

With East Hampton Airport’s new noise restrictions slated to go into effect this coming Tuesday, the town is buttoning up its voluntary noise abatement guidelines for the year, which include adding a waypoint to the northeastern departure route from the airport to avoid Sag Harbor and adding a button for traffic en route to the Montauk airport on the town’s noise complaint hotline and website.

The town and a group of pilots who are suing to stop the new restrictions are due in federal court in Islip Monday for a hearing on whether the court will allow an injunction on the new restrictions, which include curfews and a one trip per week limit for noisy aircraft that use the East Hampton Airport. The hearing had initially been scheduled for today.

Airport manager Jemille Charlton gave the East Hampton Town Board an overview of some of the changes in store at the airport at the board’s May 5 work session.

The town has had in place several recommended flight paths en route to and departing the airport over the past few years, and Mr. Charlton said his office has tweaked the language in the northeastern “Echo” departure route because pilots had been leaving the airport “farther west than we wanted them to.”

Before, he said, aircraft had been heading to the west of Barcelona Neck, leading to heavy noise complaints from the Ninevah and Azurest communities on the East Hampton side of Sag Harbor.

The new route would add a mandatory “fly-over point” to the east of Barcelona Neck to helicopter autopilot instructions, and add a fourth fly-over point over the South Ferry race so there will be “less transitioning over populated areas,” said Mr. Charlton.

“The map of the 2014 Echo route ended at Echo 3 and it kinda left it loosy goosey,” he said. “A lot of aircraft were going directly over Sag Harbor, over Main Street.”

Eastern Region Helicopter spokesman Jeff Smith said the fly-over point to the east of Barcelona Neck will be programmed in to helicopter autopilots to ensure that the autopilot does not cut the corner before that point in order to make the turn less sharp.

“Iit’s telling the box it’s a mandatory fly-over point, “he said. “It’s very detailed in this year’s noise abatement letter [to pilots] that it’s a mandatory flyover point.”

Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc wasn’t impressed with the change, which he said would “make a helicopter superhighway over Northwest Creek.”

“That’s considered by many to be one of our most pristine natural areas,” he said.

Mr. Van Scoyoc added that he’s not comfortable with changing any existing flight paths at a time when the town should be analyzing the impact of its new noise restrictions.

“To be able to accurately assess in a scientific way what effects the restrictions will have, the baseline is thrown out if we go shifting transitions,” he said.

Mr. Charlton added that the town’s noise complaint system will now allow callers to skip the lengthy introductory message before making noise complaints, and will be able to collect data on traffic en route to Montauk, as suggested by Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson.

The town board also adopted a fine schedule for the new restrictions at its May 7 meeting. The fines would be 1,000 for a first violation; $4,000 for a second; and $10,000 for a third. After the fourth violation, the pilot would be banned from the airport for two years.

The public hearing that night drew mostly supporters of the fines, with the exception of recreational pilot Kathryn Slye, who said the fines would ground local pilots, but would be a drop in the bucket for commercial aviators, and Andrew Sabin, who had collected 910 signatures on a petition asking the town to support airport operations.

Ms. Slye said she often flies to Maryland to visit her family, and could face weather problems that cause her to come in to East Hampton after the 11 p.m. curfew.

“You’re gonna have us making bad decisions. We’ve got enough to worry about up there,” she said. “Flying a small plane is not like driving a car. You can’t just pull over on the side of the road.”

Walker Bragman, who was raised in East Hampton, said he’s glad to see the restrictions go into effect.

“Thank you for standing up for our town. I know it means a lot to me and it means a lot to other people,” he said. “The airport issue is one of local control….our businesses will survive without your constant noise pollution.”

Meanwhile, Manhattan-based Gotham Air, a helicopter rideshare service which was not a party to the pilots’ lawsuit, is planning an alternative approach to handling East Hampton airspace — they’ve outfitted two new quiet helicopters for their East Hampton runs.

They’ve purchased two new Bell 407GX helicopters enabled with sound reduction technology that operate at a decibel level below the threshold to be considered “noisy” by East Hampton’s new standards.

According to their website, “our partner fleet is the only New York-area company moving forward with rotorcraft noise reduction technology.”

 

 

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

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