News

Will the FAA control noisy helicopters?

Federal representatives to Long Island have responded to residents’calls to quell helicopter noise with a new effort asserting thatthe Federal Aviation Administration can and must regulatehelicopter traffic.
Whether the FAA would divert helicopter traffic away from ShelterIsland, a problem since a voluntary route for Hamptons-boundhelicopters was established over the South Ferry Channel in 2008,remains to be seen. All helicopter routes are “on the table asfederal representatives pursue FAA control, Town Supervisor JimDougherty was assured last week.
CALL FOR FAA ACTION
During a meeting in Senator Schumer’s Washington D.C. office lastThursday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and Congressman TimBishop urged FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to take action, citinglaws that give the agency authority to regulate helicopters.
This effort is new on several fronts. Mr. Schumer and Mr. Bishopare arguing that helicopters are not following voluntary guidelinesto fly above 2,500 feet and follow water routes, contradictingstatements made in July by the Eastern Regional Helicopter Counciland East Hampton Airport management.
The federal lawmakers are also challenging the presumption that theFAA is not empowered to regulate helicopter flight plans beyond theairspace of FAA-approved control towers. They asked Mr. Babbitt “todraft FAA regulations that will set a minimum flying altitude and amandatory flight path for helicopters over Long Island and StatenIsland, and that you do so in time for the 2010 summer season.
VOLUNTARY PROGRAM NOT ENOUGH
Mr. Schumer and Mr. Bishop “have been pushing to crack down on therogue choppers for years but told [Mr.] Babbitt today that the onlyway to divert the helicopters away from populated areas once andfor all was for the FAA to impose stiff regulation and monitoring,they stated in a joint press release.
And they emphasized that the FAA does have the authority to craftand impose these regulations. Legislative and FAA lawyers wereexpected to meet this week to discuss the legal details.
“These low-flying helicopters have tortured and tormented LongIsland communities for far too long, Mr. Schumer said. “The bottomline is the only entity that can rein these rogue choppers in onceand for all is the FAA.
“Those of us who live in Suffolk County are tired of the roar ofhelicopters disrupting the serenity of our island, said Mr. Bishop,a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”Although there have been improvements for some communities due tonew flight patterns, a significant problem still exists, so it istime for the FAA to take action.
In a letter to Mr. Babbitt, the representatives argue that the FAAhas the power to enforce helicopter flight regulations under U.S.code and regulations (49 U.S.C. 40103 (b) and 14 CFR§91.119).
The letter also refers to the voluntary route brokered in 2007 thatsent  a summer stream of helicopters over Shelter Island forthe first time in 2008. This voluntary “North Shore Route,directing choppers “over the Long Island Sound, as opposed to land,has not fixed the noise problem, they said. Islanders have arguedthat helicopters flying over the narrow South Ferry Channel cannothelp but impact residents on land.
“Unfortunately the voluntary recommendations are often ignored andresidents are all too frequently still subjected to deafening,foundation-rattling flyovers, the legislators wrote to the FAA.
The letter does not call for a change in the current use of routesbut proposes that the current voluntary program becomemandatory.
At a helicopter summit in Melville last July, attended by a ShelterIsland contingent, a helicopter industry representative claimedthat pilots followed the voluntary guidelines 100 percent of thetime; Jim Brundige, manager of the East Hampton Airport estimatedthe number at 85 percent. Mr. Brundige also stated thatHamptons-bound helicopter traffic could not be regulated without anFAA-approved control tower at his airport.
Legal precedent supports FAA regulation of minimum altitudes forhelicopters, according to Messrs Schumer and Bishop. 14 CFRPart 91 outlines rules for airplane and helicopter air tour flightsoperating under visual flight rules in the State of Hawaii, andsets a minimum flight altitude for these aircraft. Also, agencydocuments indicate that the FAA has been considering adopting noisestandards for helicopter operations since 1969, Mr. Schumer and Mr.Bishop wrote.
WILL ISLAND SKIES BE QUIETER?
Supervisor Dougherty, several Islanders, and a new Quiet SkiesAlliance of Southold, Shelter Island and North Havenmunicipalities, have called for helicopters to fly ocean routesthat only cross land adjacent to the East Hampton Airport. They arepushing for helicopters to fly over the Atlantic Ocean along thesouth shore, approaching the airport over Georgica Pond; or flyover Long Island Sound, beyond Orient Point and cross at NorthwestHarbor.
Last week, Mr. Dougherty spoke to Senator Schumer’s Long Islanddirector, Gerry Petrella, who attended the FAA meeting. Mr.Dougherty was assured that “an ocean route is very much on thetable.