Pictured Above: A map of the Eastern Region Helicopter Route showing the split usage of both routes in June, 2020. Green represents outbound helicopters and red represents inbound helicopters. | Courtesy Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has extend its North Shore Helicopter Route rule, due to expire today, for two years, to to August 6, 2022.

The rule, which requires civilian helicopters to use the route when flying along the North Shore, was initially pitched in 2008 as a solution to helicopter noise along the North Shore. It was made mandatory by the FAA in 2012.

Pilots flying the route must fly one mile offshore at 2,500 feet, which has provided some relief in points west, but has become a constant source of consternation for North Forkers and residents of Noyac, Sag Harbor and the Northwest Woods in East Hampton, because pilots using the route must cross the North Fork on their final approach to East Hampton Airport.

“The extension allows current operations to continue while the agency further assesses proposed route modifications and voluntary operating agreements during the extension,” said the FAA in its Aug. 4 announcement of the extension. “One example is the Eastern Region Helicopter Council’s agreement to fly a set of noise abatement procedures suggested by the airport, surrounding communities and elected officials to reduce noise in communities on Long Island. The procedures allow helicopter operators to fly around Orient Point on the North Shore and over the water along the South Shore.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin has been working with other elected leaders to tweak the route since he took office in 2014.

“Summer after summer, North Fork residents’ quality of life has suffered due to the persistent issue of helicopter noise on the East End,” said Mr. Zeldin when the extension was announced. “Since coming to Congress, I’ve fought for an all-water route and alternatives that mitigate noise impact on residents. We have continued to make measurable progress in delivering for North Fork residents.”

Mr. Zeldin was able to get a legislative proposal to require the FAA to reevaluate the route included in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

During a public comment period on the route in 2018, the FAA received more than 300 comments, many from North Forkers opposed to the extension of the route.

The Eastern Region Helicopter Council, an association of helicopter companies, have agreed to urge their pilot members to fly at least one mile offshore at an altitude of 3,500 feet around Orient, and at an altitude of 3,500 feed at least a half mile offshore over the Atlantic Ocean.

Deviations from this route are allowed for safety and weather reasons.

Mr. Zeldin also cosponsored legislation in July, along with Long Island representatives Tom Suozzi, Peter King and Kathleen Rice to require helicopters go around Plum Island instead of Orient. The bill, H.R. 7730, has been referred to the house subcommittee on aviation.

“The extension of the North Shore Route coupled with this agreement will help ensure helicopters utilize these Eastern Region Helicopter Council routes which direct helicopters around the North Fork, instead of freely transitioning over the North Fork,” said Mr. Zeldin. “It is imperative that Eastern Region Helicopter Council continues to abide by this most recent agreement.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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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