Editorial: End copter fight once and for all

07/18/2013 8:00 AM |

east-end-helicopter-noise-long-islandThe 2 percent real estate tax that provides land preservation funding on the East End is largely taken for granted now, but that certainly wasn’t the case when the idea first took root in the late 1990s.

Many in the real estate industry fought hard against the tax, arguing that increasing the price of both undeveloped and improved lands, even by what may seem to be a small percentage, could only curtail sales. But after the enabling legislation won state legislative approval and residents in each of the five eastern towns said yes in local referenda, one veteran Southold real estate agent immediately changed his tune. He didn’t simply concede defeat, he embraced the tax and began describing it to potential buyers as an investment in protecting the charm and character that drew them out east.

When the arguing ends, it’s all about business — and in this case the realization that not only can a strong economic base and preservation coexist, each can thrive if there’s a will to do so.

Which brings us to the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Washington overturning a helicopter organization’s challenge to FAA’s authority to implement rules designed to mitigate the noise copters make as they fly over residential areas by requiring that they keep a mile off the North Shore when ferrying their passengers between NYC and the South Fork.

That’s a welcome turn of events but it’s an incomplete victory in that further FAA action is required to keep the copters offshore and off the North Fork at all times.


Two things must take place to end this unfortunate saga. First, the FAA must close those flight path loopholes. The federal court made it clear the FAA has the authority to do just that. And second, the Helicopter Association International, and a more local trade group, should follow the real estate industry’s example: Do what’s right and stop the fight. The Court of Appeals decision makes it clear that continuing the legal battle would be a waste of money.

Yes, time is money, and in this case the longer a helicopter is airborne the more fuel it consumes and the more operating costs increase. But we’re not talking about fishermen or farmers struggling to stay afloat financially. Are we to believe that a hedge fund manager flying to and from East Hampton either can’t afford or won’t pay a higher rate? This is a luxury service catering to some of the most affluent people in the world. It’s long past time for the helicopter operators to finally do what’s right for the North Fork’s “flyover people,” many of whom have lost the simple joy of sitting in their yards on a summer evening.

That shouldn’t be a pleasure reserved only for hedge fund managers.