Helicopter route remains in holding pattern

This chopper was spotted flying directly over Montclair homes at the end of August.

The silence is deafening.

Calls from East End residents and community leaders to reroute Hamptons-bound helicopters have not been answered. The federal officials who brokered the routes that in 2008 sent helicopters directly over Shelter Island as well as North Fork and Sag Harbor area communities have offered no response since hosting a meeting of the key players in the noise conflict in July. Those negotiations pointed to a simple solution — redirect the choppers onto an existing route over the Atlantic and into East Hampton Airport via Georgica Pond.

The federal representatives have yet to respond to a direct request for a route change from a new coalition of municipal officials — the Quiet Skies Alliance of Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and North Haven Mayor Laura Nolan. 

In letters to Congressman Tim Bishop, Senator Charles Schumer and Senater Kirsten Gillibrand, dated September 30, the new alliance laid out the inequity of the situation: at most 500 Hamptons helicopter customers are impacting the quality of life of tens of thousands of residents in Riverhead, Mattituck, Cutchogue, Southold, Peconic, North Haven, Sag Harbor, Noyack and Shelter Island. A simple solution would greatly minimize those impacted and shift the noise to those creating it.

According to the alliance, the problem is not that the helicopters are refusing to fly on voluntary routes agreed to in 2007, routes that send all East-bound choppers over the South Ferry channel. The problem is that the agreed-upon routes fly over or near tens of thousands of people, the town officials said. Sending the choppers south out of Manhattan, along the Atlantic shore, crossing to the East Hampton Airport at Georgica Pond, minimizes any land mass subjected to helicopter noise.

The town officials wrote: “We believe that the most effective way to accomplish compliance with the Atlantic route is for you, our federal representatives, to meet with the concerned parties — the Town of East Hampton, East Hampton Airport management and the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council — and stress that you are entirely behind the Atlantic helicopter route and expect compliance with it.”

“Senators and Congressman Bishop, you have a unique opportunity to solve a problem that plagues tens of thousands of your constituents and disrupts one of the world’s most beautiful places — the East End of Long Island. We urge you to take the steps necessary to put the Atlantic route into effect.”

So far, the only step the Capitol Hill officials have promised to pursue is a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration about the issue. FAA officials were part of the helicopter summit in July but because they don’t directly control the voluntary helicopter traffic routes, their role in a solution is unclear. An anticipated response from Senator Schumer’s office to the Reporter’s questions about helicopter routes did not arrive before this issue went to press.

“We are not happy about the FAA approach,” attorney Al Butzel said in response to an email inquiry. Mr. Butzel represents the Town of Shelter Island in the negotiations, thanks to the financial support of Island residents impacted by helicopter noise. “Our goal is to get the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council to ‘request’ — with the authority of the Senators and Mr. Bishop — that their members use the Atlantic route. To that end, we have been asking for a meeting of all the stakeholders since early September,” he said.

“We will continue to press for a meeting and continue to press for the Atlantic route,” he added. “It’s the off season now, so there is a tendency to relax. But actually, this is the best time to push.”