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Jun 23, 2009 10:29 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Suffolk Legislature tries to quiet helicopters

Jun 23, 2009 10:29 AM

The Suffolk County Legislature passed a bill earlier this month that aims to make helicopters flying from Manhattan to the Hamptons less noisy and disruptive—but aviation industry authorities think that the effort will be pointless.

If signed into law by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, the legislation would crack down on pilot behavior, stating that it is unlawful for helicopter operators to fly in a careless or reckless manner, or in a way that would endanger the life or property of others—including flying too low. But Federal Aviation Administration representatives and other aviation industry officials say the bill, sponsored by County Legislator Ed Romaine, will have no effect because the FAA sets the laws and regulations for the airspace over the entire country.

“This legislation will do nothing,” said Robert Grotell, the special advisor to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, a helicopter advocacy group located in Yardley, Pennsylvania. “It is pre-empted by the federal government and is a waste of everyone’s time and resources.”

The North Fork has been plagued with low-flying helicopters on their way to airports east of the Shinnecock Canal, explained Joseph Fischetti, the chairman of the Noise Abatement Subcommittee of Francis S. Gabreski Airport Community Advisory Board. Flying along the North Shore is the quickest route for helicopters to get to the Hamptons, in many cases, Mr. Fischetti said.

The legislature approved the bill on June 9 by a vote of 12-5. Mr. Levy, however, has not yet signed the bill, according to county spokesman Dan Aug. Mr. Levy has 30 days from June 10 to do so, but may not because of concerns over how the county will be able to enforce the bill, he said.

“He’s concerned that the county does not have enforcement powers,” Mr. Aug said. “He doesn’t have a problem with the spirit and intent of the resolution.”

Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, declined to speak about the legislation in specific terms and referred only to a letter the FAA sent to U.S. Representative Tim Bishop in late April. The letter states that Mr. Romaine’s helicopter law is preempted by the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, which created the administration. The letter also lists specific court cases that show that Congress has “given the FAA exclusive responsibility for the field of airspace management” and notes that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated New York City’s attempt to control helicopters going on sightseeing tours of Manhattan.

Despite backlash from the FAA and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, Mr. Romaine is looking to enforce the law, said Bill Faulk, a spokesman for Mr. Romaine. Mr. Faulk explained that the law was written vaguely in order to give Mr. Levy wide latitude in figuring out how to enforce it. “We want to give the county executive discretion and leeway,” Mr. Faulk said.

One way to regulate pilots would be to have Suffolk County residents lodge their complaints on a non-emergency police phone number, 852-COPS, Mr. Faulk said. Information recorded there can then be forwarded to either Suffolk County Police Department or the county attorney’s office, Mr. Faulk explained.

Once a complaint is received, either the county attorney’s office or the police department can investigate the height of the aircraft by using the transponders located on all helicopters.

If a pilot is found to be operating a helicopter carelessly or recklessly, he or she can be charged with an unclassified misdemeanor and could face a fine of up to $1,000 or one year in prison, according to the legislation.

But even if the county does not find a viable way to enforce Mr. Romaine’s law, Mr. Faulk said that the real point is “to send a message.”

“This behavior will not be tolerated in Suffolk County and, while we would like to see this enforced, enforcement may be difficult,” Mr. Faulk said. “At the end of the day, we’re telling them enough is enough.”

Mr. Fischetti, who is also a licensed pilot, said that Mr. Romaine’s law is no more than “political grandstanding,” and that there are more effective ways to reduce noise pollution from helicopters.

He explained that many of the helicopters flying into Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton have a northerly approach that takes them over the unpopulated Pine Barrens and reduces the noise those living near the airport hear. He thinks that having helicopters headed to the Hamptons from Manhattan should all fly along the South Shore rather than along the North Shore.

If the helicopters are flying along an ocean, regulations mandate that they would have to fly 1,000 feet from the shoreline, Mr. Fischetti said. But he explained that many helicopter pilots do not go along the South Shore from Manhattan because it is a slightly longer route and because they would have to fly over John F. Kennedy Airport Airspace, which could pose problems.

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All helicopters AND jets should arrive and depart to the South - right over the ocean and Sagaponack. The fish and clams won't mind as much as all of us who live to the north and west of the East Hampton airport and have had to endure the ever increasing window rattling noise. My guess is that most of those who arrive and depart by jet and helicopter live South of the highway - I think it's only appropriate that their neighborhoods should be part of the solution to this noise issue. If I sound ...more
By SagHarborBob (91), Sag Harbor on Jun 17, 09 6:21 AM
So here it is, the FAA speaks up about a jurisdictional issue and not qaulity of life or safety of the residents whose homes they fly over. The FAA needs to be overhauled as they dont give a dam about the taxpayers who pay there salary. Sag Harbor Bob says it all.

Start getting the tail numbers, track down the helo owners and start calling to complain. 6 am this past Sunday in a low flying loud Sikorsky was only ursurped by another one at midnight!! The Helo pilots are doing it to themselves, ...more
By North Sea Citizen (564), North Sea on Jun 17, 09 7:34 AM
God forbid one of these jets or choppers goes down locally, but It's bound to happen one day. And it won't l crash in a potato field, it will hit a home. Then we'll say we told you so! And we did.

Friday evenings fishing in Shinnecock bay or a sunday afternoon sail on the Peconic brings a non stop low flying circus of helicopters. We are not impressed.
By ride the truth wave (125), southampton on Jun 18, 09 6:30 PM
The communities around Gabreski Airport in Westhampton also are plagued by low-flying helicopters. They are a tremendous burden and interfere with the quality of life in ALL neighborhoods surrounding ALL airports on the east end. Robert Grotell has attended several meetings regarding this issue and has been informed exactly where the pilots should fly entering and exiting Gabreski Airport. It’s simple stay north of the airport. Robert Grotell is not even a pilot. He is nothing more than a self-serving ...more
By Woohampton (35), Westhampton Beach on Jun 23, 09 8:33 AM
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