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Oct 7, 2008 7:24 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Southern route for helicopters discussed at hearing

Oct 7, 2008 7:24 AM

Getting more helicopters to fly to and from East Hampton Airport via a “southern route,” mostly over the ocean except for a strip of land at Georgica Pond in Wainscott, was a key topic when local and regional officials met at the field last week to ponder ways to reduce helicopter noise.

“Now that we’ve had a season under our belt” with voluntary noise-reduction routes in place, “what is clear is that the numbers of helicopters using a northern route” to and from East Hampton Airport “is 80 percent, while 20 percent have been using the southern route,” said Jon Schneider, an aide to Congressman Tim Bishop, a participant at the September 30 meeting. “What can be done to get the numbers closer to 50-50?”

Pilots’ preference for the northern route over the North Fork and between Shelter Island and North Haven is “unfair to a lot of North Fork and Shelter Island residents,” said Mr. Schneider. “Ultimately, you have to look at what’s fair.”

The “southern route” requires helicopters going between Manhattan and East Hampton Airport to fly over the ocean, just off the south shore barrier beaches, with a turn over Georgica Pond to and from the airport. But a problem in getting more pilots to fly that route is the necessity that they deal with space restricted to chopper traffic over and near Kennedy Airport in Queens.

To make the route less problematic for pilots, “Tim Bishop and [New York’s U.S. Senator] Chuck Schumer’s offices will have to do some lifting on this with the Federal Aviation Agency,” said Suffolk Legislator Edward Romaine of Center Moriches, who was also at the meeting. Representing Senator Schumer at the session was his aide Gerry Petrella. Among others at the meeting was Jim Brundige, the East Hampton Airport manager.

Traffic headed to and from East Hampton Airport has been the biggest reason for complaints from Long Islanders about helicopter noise. Traffic headed to and from Francis Gabreski Airport in Westhampton is the second-highest sources of complaints, with the Southampton Village helipad on Dune Road in third place.

Earlier in the year, Congressman Tim Bishop, Senator Schumer and helicopter operators came to an agreement on voluntary flight path and altitude restrictions to reduce noise in major residential areas. The FAA has few rules limiting helicopter routes and altitudes.

A route along the ocean and over Georgica Pond would be effective in reducing noise, according to a “Master Plan Report” prepared for the town-owned East Hampton Airport by the consulting firm, Savik & Murray of Ronkokoma. “One approach and departure corridor … was found to be substantially better than the existing routes,” said the report, because noise from the traffic would impact fewer homes than any other route.

Choppers could, it noted, fly over the Atlantic and “branch off” to “over-fly Georgica Pond” and a thin strip of surrounding land. “This is the minimum sound track,” it said, “and adds little if any flying distance and flight time.”

But the report went on: “It would … expose residents in this area of high value real estate to much greater noise levels than currently exist.”

At the meeting, too, Legislator Romaine said he had pressed for federal action to require manufacturers of helicopters to build them with substantially quieter engines—similar, he said, to federal mandates for quieter fixed-wing jet aircraft.

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