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New helicopter routes proposed, two skim Island, one goes wide

TIMES REVIEW ILLUSTRATION Newly proposed routes for aircraft flying into and out of East Hampton Airport.
TIMES REVIEW ILLUSTRATION Newly proposed routes for aircraft flying into and out of East Hampton Airport.

The Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC), an advocacy group for pilots, has unveiled its recommendations to have the volume of air traffic dispersed, it said in a statement, by establishing a new passage for landings and two additional routes for takeoffs at East Hampton Airport.

For single-engine planes exiting East Hampton Airport, the ERHC recommends pilots use a route just to the south of Shelter Island through Shelter Island Sound. The council also suggests that pilots flying in heavy-engine aircraft departing from the airport should fly off the east side of the Island past Mashomack and Ram Island.

As for incoming helicopters, the new route seems to miss the Island by a wide mark, with the ERHC suggesting pilots fly over rural areas where the federally-mandated “North Shore” route over  Long Island Sound ends.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rule approved in 2012, commonly referred to as the mandated North Shore route, requires helicopters to fly over the water of Long Island Sound — one mile off shore — and go around Orient Point rather than fly over houses. But the rule allows pilots to deviate from the route when required for reasons of safety, weather conditions or approaching or departing the airport.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell — who has vowed to fight the newly proposed routes — said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s (D-NY) office has confirmed that a proposal is on the table to extend the mandated North Shore route, which expires later this year, for another two to four years.

There are only a couple of options that Supervisor Russell, Shelter Island officials and anti-noise activists have supported to alleviate helicopter noise — scrap the North Shore route mandate and require pilots to travel along the South Shore or expand the mandated passage for a few miles to the east side of Plum Island and over Gardiners Bay.

Ideally, Mr. Russell said he’d like to see Mr. Schumer withdraw support for the North Shore route.

Marisa Kaufman, a spokesperson for Mr. Schumer’s office, said in a statement that the senator is working with community leaders and the FAA to permanently decrease noise pollution in the area.

“This plan will not rid East End communities of the constant droning caused by helicopters during the summer,” she said about the ERHC’s latest proposal. “Only an entirely over water route — which Senator Schumer continues to support and to fight for — will restore the tranquil environment residents seek on the East End.”

Whitney Mitchell, a spokesperson for U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) office, said the senator “has been following the issue of helicopter noise … and is listening to the community’s concerns.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin’s (R-Shirley) office said he has issued a letter to the FAA stating that “all water approaches via the South Shore route ought to be the gold standard for helicopters destined for East Hampton Airport.”

Curfews put in place for low flying air traffic over the East End last summer will resume on Sunday, May 1. All flights are banned from 11 p,m to 7 a.m. and so-called “noisy aircraft” are banned between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m.

The East Hampton Town Board and aviation groups are currently embattled in lawsuits stemming from the town enacting three new laws in 2014 designed to address aircraft noise.

A federal judge upheld two of them, which created the nighttime curfews for the airport. The third local law, which imposed a one-trip-per-week restriction on noisy aircraft in the summer, was temporarily shot down by the judge, who said the town is prohibited from enacting it until the lawsuit is decided.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell has estimated that the three laws together would have decreased the number of helicopter landings per year from 4,000 to 1,000.

During a Town Board work session last month, Shelter Island Councilwoman Mary Dudley reported on attending a meeting of the ERHC where the new routes were discussed. Ms. Dudley said she favors the mandated North Shore route going around Plum Island.

“I stand with the North Fork people, who have had a terrible problem with noise over Mattituck and Cutchogue,” she said.

The councilwoman urged Islanders to continue to lodge noise complaints via the East Hampton Airport’s website.