An agreement between the Eastern Region Helicopter Council and East Hampton Town’s airport managers and air traffic controllers regarding helicopter routes into and out of the airport calls for choppers to reach altitudes of 3,000 and 3,500 feet over certain waypoints along designated routes, flying 1,000 feet higher than what had previously been outlined.
Those altitudes would apply at Nassau Point off the Southold Town shore and over Georgica Pond in East Hampton, but neither the altitudes nor the routes are mandatory. Local officials have no authority to dictate them, but pilots are requested to follow them, and, in an effort to encourage compliance, town airport managers will make reports about those who deviate from them to the helicopter council, an industry organization.
The designated routes are set annually, and have been a source of controversy and complaints by those who live beneath them.
This year, the suggested routes were reviewed by both subcommittees of the town’s airport planning committee — one comprising noise-abatement advocates and the other, members of the aviation community — Peter Boody, a recently appointed senior airport attendant, told the town board at a meeting on Tuesday. Both groups endorsed the higher altitude guidelines, Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the board’s airport liaison, said.
If the flow of other aircraft traffic allows, helicopters, which cannot mix with fixed-wing aircraft, would climb to higher altitudes as soon as possible when taking off from the airport, Jeff Smith, the helicopter council chairman, said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The designated incoming and outgoing routes were designed to minimize aircraft turns, which cause helicopters to make more noise than when flying a straight trajectory, Mr. Boody said. Those agreed to this year essentially mirror those used last year, he said, when the number of noise complaints phoned in to an airport complaint line dropped from 11,000 to 6,700.
East Hampton will pay air traffic controllers to direct traffic beginning on May 19, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., until the fall. The controlled airspace extends in a 4.8-mile radius from the airport, up to 2,500 feet above ground level.
On both arrivals and departures, a southerly, or “sierra” route, will send aircraft over Georgica Pond and along the south shore. A northerly, or “November,” route for arrivals will have helicopters approaching the airport from the northwest.
An easterly (“echo”) route will be used for departures, with helicopters climbing to above 2,000 feet within the airport boundary, when possible, heading northwest over the power lines, remaining east of Town Line Road, and turning right toward Barcelona Neck.
That route is “troubling,” commented Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, as it takes helicopters over preserved lands in Northwest and on Shelter Island, areas “where the impacts of development was meant to be limited.”
“We’ve now created a helicopter superhighway to the Hamptons” over those sites, he said. “I find that a very troubling contradiction.”
Mr. Boody said he would be in close contact with Mr. Smith throughout the coming busy season in order to achieve the best results.
He has been reviewing records showing the flight patterns that have previously been followed by various helicopters. “My general impression is, it’s remarkable how much eagerness there is to comply,” he told the board. “But in the busy season, people do cut corners or get a little sloppy.”