FAA Renews North Shore Helicopter Route

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The Federal Aviation Administration has renewed a mandated North Shore helicopter route, due to expire this summer, through August 6, 2016.

The route requires helicopters to fly over Long Island Sound instead of across land, an effort to reduce noise complaints from residents below the flight path. It was slated to sunset in August, but lawmakers said it has been successful in curbing helicopter noise, and so the FAA agreed to extend it for two years.

“Luckily for Long Island residents, the beginning of August will not also mean the return of onerous helicopter noise that once interrupted dinners, disrupted people enjoying their backyards, and had an effect on quality of life and on property values,” U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said in a press release on Friday.

The Department of Transportation created regulations in 2012 that require helicopter pilots to fly between navigational points in Huntington and Orient Point, one mile off the north shore. Pilots who deviate from the route, except for safety or weather reasons, or if they’re transitioning from a takeoff or landing, can be fined or have their licenses revoked.

Since the route’s introduction as a voluntary measure in 2008, complaints about helicopter noise on Long Island decreased in number—but not everywhere. Some residents in Mattituck, on the North Fork, have complained about the noise associated with helicopter traffic following the new mandated route, much the same as residents who live near East Hampton Airport and along the previous overland routes.

U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and Mr. Schumer had been asking for a change to the route that would require pilots to fly around Orient Point and Shelter Island, so as not to fly across the North Fork on the way to East Hampton Airport. But the FAA opted to keep the same mandatory route in place.

Mr. Bishop said on Tuesday that the renewal is good news, but there’s still more work to do.

“The modification Senator Schumer and I asked for would have provided for that,” he said, meaning it would have mitigated noise for people on the North Fork as well. “The existing route is better than the previous condition—so, yes, it’s a victory. … But the route does allow pilots to break off route at his or her discretion. Therefore, certain communities feel targeted.”

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who represents a population of noise-affected constituents, was upset this week when he was informed of the FAA’s decision.

“I think it’s a disaster for Southold Town,” he said on Tuesday. “There was a press release promising relief for Southold, with the caveat that flights would not just be required to fly over Long Island Sound but beyond Orient Point, over Gardiners Bay, not over the residents of Southold Town. The northerly route has proven to be a disaster.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Russell said the town receives 40 to 50 noise complaints each week, since the helicopters fly right over that area during takeoff and landing. He said if the transition route continues to be over Southold Town, the Town Board may have to take some sort of action. They’re considering litigation.

“To be honest, I’m going to suggest we’ve been sold out by our federal elected representatives,” Mr. Russell said. “They’ve kowtowed to the interests of the larger populations to the west to sacrifice the population of the east. They had before them a proposal that brought relief to everybody. That opportunity has been passed.”

In a statement on Monday, the FAA said it is continuing to study whether the North Shore route should be made permanent but will also invite comments for 20 days on the renewal.

Both Mr. Schumer and Mr. Bishop said they will continue to push for the proposed new route around Orient Point. “We want helicopter traffic to be over the water to the greatest extent possible,” Mr. Bishop said.

On the other hand, Jeff Smith, vice president of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, said he is pleased that the FAA did not pull the trigger and expand the route to beyond Orient Point. He has said doing so would increase the financial hardship and flight time for pilots.

“The ERHC applauds the FAA for not overreacting to political pressure and relying on its mandate to ensure safe and efficient air travel,” he said. “We hope to work with them and other stakeholders, including those affected on the ground, to continue to strive for sensible and equitable solutions that can be modified regularly without the typical bureaucratic red tape.”

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