Congressman says bill would require FAA to reconsider helicopter route

A bill requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to reassess an unpopular North Shore Helicopter Route is expected to pass in the Senate before the end of the month, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced Wednesday.

Co-sponsored in the House by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Queens) and Congressman Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), the legislation passed 393-13 in April. The legislation includes an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 and would require the FAA to consider the noise impacts on affected communities, improve altitude enforcement and consider alternative routes, such as an all-water route over the Atlantic Ocean.

In a press release Wednesday, Mr. Zeldin announced that he secured a bicameral agreement to get the legislation passed before FAA funding expires Sept. 30.

If passed, the FAA would also be required to hold a public hearing on the route in impacted communities and open a public comment period.

“Summer after summer, North Fork residents’ quality of life has suffered due to the persistent issue of helicopter noise on the East End,” Mr. Zeldin said in a press release. “[The FAA and Department of Transportation] have continued to flat out ignore the residents directly affected.”

North Fork residents have said the route brings frequent and unwanted noise to the area.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the route has impacted quality of life in the area.

“Southold has become a doormat to the helicopter operators as they head to and from the Hamptons,” he said in a statement calling for action.

The route dates back to 2012, when the FAA ruled that helicopters are required to fly over Long Island Sound and around Orient Point rather than fly over houses.

But pilots are allowed to deviate from the route due to safety or weather conditions, or when transitioning to a destination.

In response, both Riverhead and Southold towns formed a task force on helicopter noise, citing that helicopters frequently fly over the North Fork while heading to the South Shore.

The route was extended in 2014 and again in 2016 without consulting the public, Mr. Zeldin noted.

Catherine Kent, who serves as the Riverhead Town Board liaison to the Helicopter Noise Task Force, said Riverhead has been “inundated” by air traffic in recent years.

“It starts Thursday night and goes through Monday evening,” she said. “We have this constant barrage of helicopters and now seaplanes over our homes.”

The legislation possibly being passed is welcome news after another summer of helicopter traffic.

“I’m pleased to see any legislation that addresses this urgent problem,” she said.

Ms. Kent also acknowledged that community members on the task force have not stopped speaking up on the issue.

“I think some of this legislation is a reaction to that,” she said.

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