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Aug 7, 2018 4:10 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Town Town Pleads With Helicopters To Fly South

East Hampton Town has implored helicpoter pilots to resume using the southern approach route to East Hampton Airport after an air traffic controller called the route unsafe.
Aug 7, 2018 4:50 PM

In a year when the volume of aircraft traffic at East Hampton Airport appears poised to set all-time highs, East Hampton Town officials scrambled this week to implore helicopter pilots to resume using a southern approach or departure route in and out of the airport whenever possible—even after the head of the airport’s air traffic control tower said heavy use of that route is unsafe.

The town issued an official statement on Friday that declared the southern route open and safe to use, and said that pilots should continue using it to conform with accepted noise abatement procedures.

East Hampton Town Councilman Jeff Bragman said the appeal to pilots came after control tower manager Bruce Miller told members of a town advisory committee that he would not direct aircraft to use the southern approach anymore, because it posed a safety hazard—primarily because controllers in the tower could not see helicopters approaching from that direction.

The Eastern Region Helicopter Council, which had officially asked its members to split their arrivals and departures between the southern and northern routes at East Hampton this summer, sent an email shortly afterward to its members saying the southern route, known as the Sierra Route in aviation communications, was closed.

Residents of neighborhoods north and west of the airport said the amount of helicopter traffic over their homes spiked in the weeks since.

“That was an unfortunate communication,” said William Reilly, a resident of Noyac, of the concern raised about the southern route. “The establishment of the Sierra Route the past couple of years had provided some relief.”

“Our goal has always been to spread the traffic within those routes equitably and evenly,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday. “And we had done pretty well—up until the 20th of July.”

Jeff Smith, the ERHC chairman, said the group will inform its members that the southern route is available to them but will not ask helicopters to split takeoffs and landings between north and south routes. Instead, they simply will encourage use of the southern flight paths when weather and traffic conditions allow.

“The 50-50 split was putting undue pressure on the air traffic controllers in the tower,” Mr. Smith said. “We’re abandoning that for the rest of this season.”

Mr. Bragman said other experts from Robinson Aviation had come to the airport following Mr. Miller’s statements and determined that the southern route was safe, and that controllers being able to see aircraft before they enter the airport itself is not necessary, or even particularly common at small airports.

He said he was told the controller who made the statement has left Robinson Aviation since his July 20 appearance at the airport committee meeting.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that aircraft traffic in the month of July appears to have been nearly 20 percent higher than in 2017. He also noted that weather conditions, like low clouds on weekends, had exacerbated the noise impact of helicopter traffic by pushing it lower.

Complaints from residents in neighborhoods around the airport have also spiked, totalling some 58,000 so far this year, according to the town’s noise complaint website, PlaneNoise.com.

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By knitter (1725), Southampton on Aug 11, 18 6:08 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser