FAA sets new rules on choppers

The battle against helicopter noise over the East End may be over. Or not.

For the first time, the federal government will regulate helicopter flight paths over Long Island, Senator Charles Schumer announced Thursday, and a proposed path, as depicted in Newsday, sends them from Long Island Sound, turning south at Shoreham and bypassing the northern East End entirely.

But that map is not accurate, county Legislator Ed Romaine told Times/Review Newspapers Friday, and exactly where the choppers will cross over Long Island to reach the Hamptons is not set in stone.

According to Mr. Schumer, the Federal Aviation Administration will be filing proposed regulations mandating helicopter traffic in and out of New York City to fly one mile seaward of the North Shore and maintain an altitude of 2,500 feet. When crossing over Long Island, pilots will maintain the 2,500-foot altitude but will vary their path by time and day and fly over “least populated areas,” Mr. Romaine said Friday.

Mr. Schumer said a notice of proposed rulemaking would be filed by the FAA on Monday, May 24, but a record of the notice could not be found on federal websites prior to presstime. Once the rules are posted, a 30-day comment period will open. The rules are expected to go into effect before the busy July 4 weekend.

“I think this is a tremendous first step,” Mr. Romaine said. “But I want to make sure it is enough of a step.” He will be monitoring the situation once the rules are in place to see just where helicopters cross over land.

In 2008, a voluntary path brokered by Mr. Schumer sent 85 to 90 percent of helicopters bound to East Hampton Airport over Shelter Island and the North Fork. Residents previously unaffected by helicopter noise began complaining and called for a different route or higher minimum altitudes. The FAA was asked to address the situation but federal officials said they could not regulate helicopter traffic over Long Island. That has changed.

“I want to thank Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Tim Bishop, who were both instrumental in pushing for new regulations at the federal level, and FAA Administrator Babbitt for recognizing the need for these new regulations,” said Mr. Romaine.

“This is tremendously encouraging news after a long slog but let’s remain vigilant,” Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said last week. He thanked an island contingent working to redirect helicopters away from Shelter Island spearheaded by resident Kenneth Winston.

Like Mr. Romaine, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he is cautiously optimistic. “I’ll wait to decide if it’s good news when the phone slows down.” The volume of complaints about helicopter noise phoned and e-mailed to the Town of Southold is lower this year relative to the prior two, he said.

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