Featured Story

Turn down the volume: Too many choppers

REPORTER FILE PHOTO| The number of complaints is up dramatically this summer over last.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO| The number of complaints about aircraft noise is up dramatically this summer over last.

If you think roaring helicopters and buzzing planes are making your life more miserable this summer than last, you’re right.

Last summer, from July 1 to July 28, the East Hampton Airport booked 54 noise complaints from Shelter Island residents. In the same period this summer, that number spiked to 810 complaints.

But it’s not just Islanders complaining about deafening rotor wash and rattling windows. The racket has increased in 17 hamlets and towns on the East End. During July last year, there were 816 complaints to the East Hampton Airport noise abatement office; this July that number rose to an astonishing 4,909 phone calls.

The complaints go to East Hampton because that’s where the lion’s share of aircrafts land with passengers from New York City and Westchester County and take off to ferry weekenders back.

Fielding and logging those complaints is Peter Boody, former editor  of the Reporter.

The reason for more racket this summer is due to more traffic, and not necessarily what Mr. Boody termed, “outliers,” or pilots who have strayed from routes that are set down by the airport.

“Activity at the airport generates complaints and complaints are through the roof this year in part because operations are up,” Mr. Boody said.

The routes given to helicopters have been negotiated with the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council and town governments. They are designed to direct traffic over the least populated areas and over water as much as possible. The routes are also laid out to keep aircraft traffic as high as possible to reduce noise intensity and have been tweaked and evolved over the past 10 years.

There are four voluntary helicopter noise abatement routes for East Hampton, two for arrivals and two for departures. The “echo” departure route funnels traffic out of East Hampton to the east of Sag Harbor and then out over the water toward the South Ferry Channel. According to the route’s directions, pilots are urged to stay within the channel until they reach Peconic Bay.

But some are fanning out over Shelter Island, according to Mr. Boody.

“Almost all are at relatively high altitudes, according to the tracks I’ve investigated, most at or above 3000 feet, which makes the noise less intense,” he said. “But judging from the noise complaints, that’s not appeasing Shelter Islanders who don’t want to hear these helicopters at all because there are so many of them during certain periods.”

Councilman Peter Reich said he has spoken to individuals involved in monitoring noise and been told it’s not necessarily the routes that are a problem, but some helicopters are so massive that no matter what the route or altitude, people on the ground are going to get an earful.

Mr. Boody reiterated that the routes are followed on a voluntary basis.

And there lies the problem, since there is no enforcement mechanism for pilots or the companies that employ them.

Federal Aviation Administration grant agreements for routes expire at the end of this year, and, if action is taken, there might be a quieter summer of 2015 in store. When the agreements with the FAA expire, “the door will be open to impose mandatory limits on airport traffic,” perhaps in the form of curfews for flights,” Mr. Boody said.

But that will be up to individual governments lobbying federal officials on their residents’ behalf.