Disagreement on Helicopter Paths

Pleas to East Hampton officials to reduce the traffic and noise

   While Southampton Town residents under the flight path of helicopters bound for East Hampton Airport continue their pleas to East Hampton officials to reduce the traffic and noise over them before it increases in the summer season, residents of East Hampton’s Northwest area are campaigning to prevent a return of helicopters to a route over their neighborhood.
    Still others in Northwest continue to press town officials to push forward efforts to gain the ability to limit access to the airport and reducing traffic overall. They compare the shifting of flight routes to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” — relieving some noise-burdened residents at the expense of others.
    Meanwhile, Jim Brundige, the airport manager, and Jeff Smith, head of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, will present new routing options to East Hampton’s town board and to a multi-town helicopter noise advisory committee in the coming weeks. Helicopters have been taking a designated route along Long Island’s north shore, then turning to approach the airport over Southampton Town.
    Because the Federal Aviation Administration has not enacted regulations governing specific helicopter routes, beyond the northern route along Long Island from points west, and since municipalities have no jurisdiction over flight paths, routes are normally negotiated by local airport managers with industry representatives like Mr. Smith, based on safety regulations, pilots’ considerations, and any airport noise-abatement procedures with which pilots are asked to voluntarily comply.
    A shift last season sending helicopter flights in and out of the airport following uninhabited utility lines and over Jessup’s Neck in Southampton prompted a wave of complaints from newly affected residents of the neighborhoods below.
    In an e-mail last week to The Star, Jim Matthews, chairman of the Northwest Alliance and a member of the Quiet Skies Coalition’s executive committee, called attention to an effort by another neighborhood group, calling itself the Northwest Preservation Society, to muster opposition to the possible return of a flight path over their area.
    “Last summer, you probably were relieved to experience the peace and quiet that returned to our area when low-flying helicopter traffic was diverted away from Northwest Woods for the first time in seven years,” says a letter addressed “Dear Neighbor[s]” and signed by eight homeowners or couples, including Judith Hope and Tom Twomey, John and Cindy Shea, and Robert and Ina Caro.
     “. . . The bottom line is that, unless local officials hear from the residents of Northwest Woods, North Haven, and Shelter Island, and hear from them quickly and in significant numbers, it is very possible that politics will prevail and invasive helicopter noise will return to our neighborhoods this summer,” the letter says. “If we remain silent, a small majority may have their way with politicians and deprive us of the peaceful enjoyment of our homes this coming summer.”
    “We very much regret that some in our area have chosen to distract us from the vital discussion about flight restrictions with shamelessly selfish not-­­in-my-back-yard provocations,” Mr. Matthews wrote in his e-mail. While the Northwest Alliance supports “methodical development of environmentally responsible and socially equitable routing patterns,” Mr. Matthews wrote, “this is no substitute for a serious effort to reduce aircraft traffic in our community as soon as possible.”
    According to the Northwest Alliance, a new helicopter flight path over the Northwest area is to be proposed, routing aircraft over Sag Harbor’s Azurest and Ninevah neighborhoods, and over “a protected environmental area” near Little Northwest Creek.
    The Alliance itself, in an ad published in this paper last week, is calling on members of the public to demand that the town board cease accepting F.A.A. money, which, the ad says, “forces unlimited access to our airport,” and demand equitable, environmentally responsible traffic routing, was well as limits to airport use.
    “I think focusing on routes is not going to solve the problem,” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said during a town board discussion in early April. “No matter where you put the route, obviously the result is, wherever they fly, those affected people will be affected in a negative way.” Nothing will improve, he said, “without some kind of restriction on the numbers of flights, the types of flights, and the times of day.”
    “You currently have a voluntary curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” Mr. Smith told the board. He said that less than 2 percent of flights violate that request. The helicopter pilots can, Mr. Smith said, look at increasing altitudes, achieving target altitudes faster on takeoff, and staying at higher altitudes as long as possible before landing, but they cannot comply with ad hoc town restrictions on airport use when the F.A.A. maintains control.
    Then, Councilwoman There­sa Quig­ley said, the town will have to follow­ an F.A.A.-dictated “Part 161” proce­dure, and make a case to the F.A.A. for local control.
    “The ultimate bottom line,” Charles Ehren, vice-chairman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, told the board, “is you must take no more F.A.A. funding until you see the results that you can achieve before the 2014 expiration of current F.A.A. restrictions on your local noise control powers.”
    Also at the April 2 meeting, Mr. Ehren questioned why the town is applying for permanent approval for its seasonal control tower, which was put into operation last summer on a trial basis.
    Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the board’s liaison to the airport, said that the town had initially obtained a one-year temporary approval for operation of the seasonal control tower, and that under F.A.A. rules the facility could not remain in place without undergoing the full review proscribed in the permanent approval process.
    The town will not be obligated to continue to pay for and operate the traffic-control facility, he said, should it decide not to do so after three years.
    Kathleen Cunningham, the Quiet Skies Coalition’s chairwoman, expressed concern this week about the application for a permanent approval. “A permanent control tower will increase capacity, no matter what they say,” she said. “It’s just a lot of smoke and mirrors.”
    It had been hoped that air-traffic controllers would make noise abatement a goal in setting requirements for pilots. But, Ms. Cunningham said, “There’s still no noise-abatement plan.”