The Federal Aviation Administration has published a new helicopter rule that could have serious implications on the air traffic approaching and leaving East Hampton airport.
On March 4, the FAA issued a new final rule, effective May 5, that would add a new category of helicopters, classified as “Stage 3,” which meet certain noise standards. Helicopters that are currently certified as Stage 1 or Stage 2 helicopters could be reclassified as Stage 3 helicopters if they are upgraded with quieter components.
According to the FAA, “these more stringent noise certification standards adopted into U.S. regulations will reduce noise exposure from helicopters certified in the United States and are consistent with the FAA’s goal of harmonizing U.S. regulations with international standards.”
While this at first blush may sound promising, East Hampton residents are concerned because, once helicopters are classified as Stage 3, the town will no longer have local control in regulating those helicopters’ use of the airport, unless the town decides to stop taking grant money from the FAA.
“This new rule is enormously significant for the Town of East Hampton,” said Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the town board liaison to the airport, in a press release issued Monday. “For years, the town has been advised that it could restrict operations on Stage 1 and 2 helicopters without FAA approval…. Under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act and Part 161 of the FAA regulations, grant obligated airports can restrict operations by Stage 3 aircraft or helicopters only with FAA approval. With this new rule, the FAA has now imposed an additional hurdle for grant-obligated airports.”
Advocates for local control of the airport have long been pushing the town to not take any more FAA money for upgrades to the airport, since money the airport has taken from the FAA in the past dictates whether the town has control over limiting the aircraft that can fly into East Hampton. If the town opts to not take any more FAA money, these so-called “grant assurances” are slated to expire at the end of this year.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said the two recently appointed sub-committees of the Airport Planning Committee, comprised of noise abatement advocates and members of the aviation community, are embarking on a study of the airport’s operations, noise data and complaints “so that the town can narrowly define the noise problem for the purpose of identifying potential methods to address it.”
“Upon completion of the proposed noise analysis, the town will be considering a range of options related to possible restrictions on helicopters as well as fixed-wing aircraft,” she said. “As the town considers whether to remain grant obligated after December 31, 2014…. the latest FAA rule will be a significant consideration.”
Kathy Cunningham of Quiet Skies Long Island warned the town board last November that the changes to the helicopter regulations were afoot, but then-airport liaison and councilman Dominick Stanzione asked her to wait until the new board took office in January to deal with it.
“This makes it ever more urgent that we not accept FAA funding,” she said at the time.
At last Thursday’s town board meeting, Ms. Cunningham praised the new board’s efforts.
“I’d like to thank Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez for taking control with both hands and doing great work. I’m very happy to be a part of it,” she said.