Helicopter Noise Bill Would Set 1500-ft Limit

Posted on 31 July 2008

By Karl Grossman

Suffolk Legislator Edward P. Romaine has drafted a bill under which Suffolk County would establish a minimum altitude at which helicopters could fly over Suffolk.

The measure is in response to widespread complaints over the last several years from Suffolk residents affected by the raucous noise of helicopters taking New Yorkers to and from eastern Long Island and what the bill describes as the failure of an agreement between Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Tim Bishop and helicopter operators “to alleviate the public nuisance” of chopper noise.

Generating the complaints has been helicopter traffic in and out of East Hampton Airport, the Southampton Village helipad, and the Suffolk County-owned Francis Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.

However, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said that the federal government through the Federal Aviation Administration regulates helicopters and Suffolk County would be “pre-empted” from restricting the altitude at which they fly.

Over the winter, Senator Schumer and Representative Bishop met with helicopter operators and got their agreement to fly at 2,500 feet and stress going over bodies of water—the Atlantic Ocean and the Long Island Sound— on  trips between New York City and Long Island.

The bill, which Romaine intends to introduce Tuesday at a meeting of the legislature, declares that “low-flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County” and the “recent agreement between public officials and helicopters has failed to alleviate the public nuisance.”

“The purpose of this law is to establish a minimum altitude for the operation of helicopters passing through the air boundaries of Suffolk County,” it states, “and to preserve and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the residents of Suffolk County without prohibiting the safe passage of helicopters.”

Under Romaine’s bill, it would be “unlawful to operate, or for the owner to permit the operation, of any type of helicopter over the legal limits of the County of Suffolk” which would be “below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet from the helicopter except when necessary for a take-off or landing or as weather conditions may dictate.”

Penalties would be a fine of up to $1,000 “and/or one year in prison per offense.”

Exempt from the law would be “helicopters used exclusively in the government service of the United States of America, the State of New York, or any municipal corporation of the state”—which would cover police helicopters—and also “helicopters being used exclusively for agricultural operations.”

In an interview, Mr. Romaine said he “went to all those meetings with Schumer and Bishop” and was told, “We got it, buddy. It’s going to be taken care of with the informal plan.”

In fact, he said, the racket of helicopter noise continues. “The voluntary plan is not working,” said Mr. Romaine of Center Moriches whose district includes the North Fork, Shelter Island and a piece of Brookhaven Town.

As to the federal government pre-empting a county in setting minimum altitude for helicopters, “we’re not pre-empted. The FAA does not regulate helicopters.”

“The problem has to be solved,” said Mr. Romaine Thursday. He said he expects his resolution will “get peoples’ attention” and that “the FAA should step in and require helicopter operators to file flight plans and adhere to minimum altitude requirements.”

Chris Dancy, media relations director of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said in an interview Monday that “the federal government does regulate helicopters.” Choppers are referred to as “rotary wing aircraft” in FAA regulations, he said. “The FAA is responsible for anything that takes place above the ground and Congress has pre-empted  local jurisdiction and designated the FAA as the agency responsible for aviation activity,” said Mr. Dancy.

Gene Polito of Noyac, who has been crusading against the helicopter noise, agreed that the deal worked out between Senator Schumer and Representative Bishop and the helicopter operators has not worked out. “Yesterday, I counted 68 flights over my house including helicopters flying as low as 900 feet,” he said Sunday. But, he said, a minimum altitude of 1,500 feet is “totally useless—it doesn’t do a thing. It would be no better than 900 feet.”

Helicopters need to fly at 3,000 feet to not disturb people on the ground with noise, said Mr. Polito, citing “the recommendations of helicopter manufacturers themselves that when flying over ‘sensitive areas’ they should fly at 3,000 feet.”

William Reilly of Noyac, also involved in challenging helicopter noise, said the Schumer-Bishop-helicopter operator agreement  has not solved the helicopter noise problem. “Too some extent it has worked in that a number of pilots are flying higher, but there is still a significant number that are violating it,” said Mr. Reilly. He was also was not happy with the 1,500-foot limit. “This will not help at all,” said Mr. Reilly. 


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4 Responses to “Helicopter Noise Bill Would Set 1500-ft Limit”

  1. Teresa says:

    My family owns a house in Northwest Woods since about the early 1960′s. I live along the new “traffic zone”, on Northwest Creek. These low flying helicopters have changed our lives. No longer can my family go outside and enjoy the peace and quiet of living along a creek and wildlife preserve without traffic noise. I stay out of town in the summer because of the city and tourist traffic and rage. NOW it is just as bad staying home! With all the noise and traffic from the helicopters. My daughter is afraid of these things as they are flying about 150 feet above our house, not the 2500 feet they are supposed to fly!!! I have to try to keep her inside now… which is unfair. I call the complaint line at least 30 times a day, even more on friday and monday when the rush hour traffic starts. Sometimes they are flying overhead until 11:15 PM!! and can start as early as 5:45 AM!

    The thump thump thump of the blades can be ‘felt’ 1/2 a mile away before they even get here. This thumping really goes through my body and messes my feelings. I hate the thumping, I dont know what or why this low frequency thumping does to humans but it is not the same as airplanes with their high frequency effect. I wrote to mr Schumer a couple months ago and I got a letter back saying something like… “I am sorry you feel the way you do about the rising cost of gas…”????? Some form letter not addressing the issue. I feel that mr Schumer has sidestepped the issue here… and insulted me. These helicopters should be forced to fly the 2500 feet or get a fine or license taken away after so many offenses. Why not fly them over the ocean a mile out?? Then they can fly over the homes of the people who are actually IN the helicopters, the folks in Sagaponack and Georgica!

  2. L0nestar5 says:

    I have lived my entire life with the exception of 7 years and during college in-session time directly beneath the flight path for Sikorsky Helicopter’s Stratford factory.
    The rotary-wing aircraft I regularly see/hear every day are considerably larger than the ones you run into as well as some of a similar or possibly same size.
    The “noise” from these larger helicopters is in NO WAY irritating or very loud. I’ve checked with a C weighted dB meter too. All conversations in our household during these test flights are easily heard, even though my elderly parents are slightly hard of hearing.
    Conversations in and out of the house are totally un-affected.
    The only helicopter from that factory that is considered remotely loud by ANY means is the CH53E and it’s variants, and that particular “noise” is quite pleasant to hear.
    We will be listening to that particular sound on a regular basis shortly since a new run of the CH53K variant is scheduled to start in the very near future.
    The “racket” from these helicopters is considered welcome here.

    My college roomate used to live right under an active Logan Airport pattern. The whole house would shake. He had no real issues with it and when I stayed there, I slept soundly.
    The only irritant then was this was pre-cable days and the TV would get snowy when the 747 vibrations got too violent.
    Big deal.
    I find it ridiculous that anyone would have an issue living near or under an active flightpath.
    Didn’t your realtor tell you that there would be flights of varying aircraft over your home when you bought the house?
    Didn’t you notice they were there when you looked at the house?
    The aircraft were there before you.
    Get a thicker skin and live with it, or move.

  3. Little Billy says:

    Hey L0nestar5,

    Sounds like all those vibrations have pureed your brain…

    The Airport may have been there longer than I have been out here but only by about 18 years.

    Helicopter landings were extremely rare until recent years…The traffic generated by the airport was limited and within reason. The approach pattern that Teresa talks of is a very new wrinkle this is only the second season since the “suggested” course was communicated to the regional helicopter pilots association. The fact is that the aircraft only spend a short time flying over the Town of East Hampton and Teresa is right in the middle of it.

    This ill conceived plan was drawn up so as to send the flights over less densely populated areas…read that as wetland preserves…These areas are not that vast and the flights inevitably end up right over my home.

    With the dawn of the McMansion era….If you’re not arriving in the Hamptons by helicopter (Jets are so yesterday) you’re nobody. The fact is that those flights serve only a few and aggravate thousands!

    I’d like to see the East End municipalities band together and deny a place for commercial and private helicopters to land. It’s not that far-fetched. North Haven already has such an ordinance in place (With the obvious exception for legitimate emergencies).All we need is the political will and that shouldn’t be too difficult as those who are irritated by the flights far outnumber those that benefit from them.

    In the meantime route ALL helicopter flights to East Hampton Airport over the Atlantic (I don’t buy the safety argument for flying over land) and bring them in on the most direct route from the shore!

    That would bring them right over Georgica Pond and Ron Lauder’s little cottage, “The Creeks”. It’s not a densely populated area ;)

    It would be fascinating to watch the fireworks when some of those who are traveling to the area by helicopter are forced to deal with the attendant noise.

    Little Billy

  4. mr mcse says:

    Flightpaths nation wide have changed since 911. This has moved things that were agreed upon and known to areas not agreed to whatsoever. This is mostly a benefit of and for the rich. The average guy has to put up with it because he has no money to force change. The haves and have nots will soon be at war and the haves are out numbered. Revolution is coming in this country and this time is no different from the rest hint “LET THEM EAT CAKE” . To you rude rich people, Your days are numbered. I suggest more concern for the welfare of others be your motto. Not the feel good kind. It should hurt, you should feel the pain of self sacrifice. Give your TIME, TALENTS, RESPECT, and CASH. Or not and reap what you sow. Just a friendly heads up. This may be the ONLY way to stop where things are headed. Don’t believe me? In CA. car pool lanes were added to alivate traffic congestion and get people to car pool. Those same car pool lanes are now the only things moving. The rich and famous USED to have superhighway to race down because so few people carpooled. Now they want their lanes back and they have done it by turning them into TOLL ROADS at TAXPAYERS expense. The ave. driver can’t afford $10 one way on this “FREEWAYS” except in rare circumstances but the wealthy think nothing of $10 to save some time. These are the have and have not situations I am saying will affect us all. Those on the east coast the road plans are not the same. West coast pays an arm and a leg for our cars,insurance,registration,taxes,BONDS,and gas pump tax. A $50 cab ride one way might be a good deal for you but not for us. That would be above and beyond in costs. Helicopter trafic is bad here too. Mostly police,sheriff,DEA, and who the hell knows black copters. They fly low and fast and the blade wash is so irritating it makes you want to pull out a spotlight. When they circle to joyride over a neighborhood is when things get really tough. Three in the morning is my favorite time. What happened to police cars? “Crime is down because we use choppers” ya to scare away the crimminals. Less work, Less paperwork, and more time to drink coffee,eat donuts, and flirt with the local women. Oh and L0nestar5 me thinks you protestith too much. I will bet he is either a pilot,rich flyer, or in the copter mfg. trade.

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