U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin is taking the lead on asking the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a mandate, by Memorial Day weekend, that helicopters must fly at a higher altitude over the East End.
After writing a letter to Michael Huerta, the administrator of the FAA in Washington, D.C., Mr. Zeldin hosted a press conference in Southold on Sunday to make a statement showing that he means business.
A slew of politicians aiming to cut helicopter noise for their constituents—including East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and a number of Southold Town officials—attended the conference to show solidarity.
In his letter to Mr. Huerta, Mr. Zeldin wrote that the FAA’s 2012 rule implementing a mandatory North Shore route for approaching helicopters was successful in cutting down noise on the South Fork—but exacerbated the problem on the North Fork. He asked that the FAA require that helicopters remain at a higher altitude, at least 2,500 feet, and begin to descend for landing only after they have cleared the North Fork.
“Proper enforcement of the altitude ceiling for aircraft will help mitigate the disruptive noise impact, and a clear definition of safe and proper transition points, combined with a rotating schedule, would help mitigate the severe noise impact,” Mr. Zeldin’s letter states.
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.
The North Shore route, which began as a voluntary measure in 2008, was slated to sunset in August 2014, but the FAA agreed to extend it for two years.
Since 2008, complaints about helicopter noise on Long Island decreased in number—but not everywhere. Some residents in Mattituck, Southold, Shelter Island and Riverhead have complained about the noise associated with helicopter traffic following the new mandated route, much as did residents who live near East Hampton Airport and along the previous overland routes.
Last year, former U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer had asked for a change to the route that would require pilots to fly over water, 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.
If the FAA chooses not to pursue a mandatory altitude for helicopters over the North Fork, Mr. Zeldin suggested that it go with the option suggested by Mr. Bishop and Sen. Schumer, requiring pilots to fly around Orient Point and Shelter Island.
“Just because there may be some helicopter pilots flying at higher altitudes, they certainly don’t speak for all of them,” Mr. Zeldin, who is the vice chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, said in an interview last Wednesday. “There are complaints that on Shelter Island—pilots are flying low so people can take pictures of the island.”
He said that helicopter pilots currently have to fly at a minimum of 2,500 feet when transitioning on the North Shore route, but that as soon as the pilot hits a transition point to head to the South Shore, the altitude no longer applies, and helicopters tend to fly at much lower altitudes, exacerbating the noise issue.
In the same letter, Mr. Zeldin expressed his support for East Hampton Town’s proposed access restrictions at East Hampton Airport. He asked that the FAA “stand by the assurances it gave” Mr. Bishop that the town would be able to adopt them.
The restrictions would include a ban on all helicopters on summer weekends, a limit on operations for noisy aircraft during the summer, and a year-round nighttime and early-morning curfew. The restrictions will be aired at a public hearing on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at LTV Studios in Wainscott.
Following the press conference, Mr. Thiele added that asking the FAA to require the minimum altitude is another step to take in addition to what the Town of East Hampton is attempting to do with its proposed restrictions.
“The proposal addresses one aspect of it, but once planes and helicopters are in the air, they are under the jurisdiction of the FAA,” he said. “Getting the North Shore route took a long time, and there should be a mandatory South Shore route instead of just transition points. East Hampton is doing what they’re doing, and from the FAA perspective, the idea is to keep helicopters over the water and as high as possible for as long as possible.”
Mr. Thiele said it was important that everyone came together for the press conference because it showed unity among East End leaders on the noise issue.
“When all the town officials, county and state officials and federal officials are all telling the FAA it needs to cooperate with this, it is sending the message that the FAA needs to be more responsive,” he said.