The Federal Aviation Administration’s North Shore helicopter route, once the proud product of the work of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, has increasingly proven to be a bane to North Forkers, and word this weekend of its extension for four more years isn’t sitting well with many lawmakers.
The FAA’s rule, its first-ever regulation on helicopter traffic, was greeted with great fanfare when it first became mandatory in 2012. Pilots had begun following the route on a voluntary basis in 2008.
The rule requires helicopters to travel one mile off shore at a height of at least 2,500 feet over the north shore of Long Island — which has proved helpful to North Shore residents on western Long Island.
The problem for East Enders is that the rule only exists between Huntington and Riverhead, and does not apply to helicopters on their final approach to the East Hampton airport, where they cross over the North Fork.
North Forkers have been unsuccessful in pressuring the FAA to extend the flight path of the North Shore route, forcing aircraft to fly offshore over water along the North Fork, before turning in to make their final approach near Plum Island, which is inhabited by scientists and animals but not by residents tired of hearing helicopters coming in low over their homes.
The rule was extended in 2014 for two years to Aug. 6, 2016, and was renewed this week until Aug. 6, 2020.
Congressman Lee Zeldin didn’t mince words in denouncing the extension of the route.
Mr. Zeldin said in a release Saturday that the move is “an unacceptable example of incompetence and arrogance on the part of faceless, unelected and unaccountable federal bureaucrats.” He added that “the FAA Administrator should immediately reconsider this decision, and if he is unwilling to respond to Congress, or to the concerns of the people whom we were elected to represent, then he should resign or be replaced.”
Mr. Zeldin, who served as an Army paratrooper in Iraq, is the Vice Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, and in October of last year, he sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta asking that the North Shore route be extended for no longer than one year, with strengthened altitude requirements and an all-water route over the Atlantic Ocean.
New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele also condemned the FAA’s decision.
Mr. Thiele has supported mandatory routes along both the north and south shores, in an attempt to spread out the traffic, which is currently concentrated over the North Fork, even though most users of helicopters are en route to the South Fork.
“The current route is beset with loopholes that permit transits over land and populated areas many miles from the East Hampton Airport at low altitudes,” said Mr. Thiele in a press release Monday.
“The status quo is not acceptable. The current route has resulted in detrimental impacts to the quality of life across eastern Long Island,” he added. “We have appealed to the FAA to work with us to find the right balance to permit aviation to coexist with the needs of residents on the ground. However, again they have turned their backs on the very public they are supposed to protect. This is simply the latest chapter in a long history, where not only has the FAA ignored the public, but they have also thwarted legitimate local government home rule authority to manage the airport. Congress must intervene to save the people of eastern Long Island from four more years of assaults on their health and quality of life.”