By Bryan Boyhan
After another summer season enduring helicopter traffic over their homes, Noyac residents wanted to know how the government was doing to make their lives more bearable. So when Congressman Tim Bishop visited the Noyac Civic Council Monday night, they were ready.
“You want to hear about helicopters,” Bishop surmised as he started speaking on the lawn in front of the Bridgehampton National Bank’s community room, while the audience of about 30 NCC members waited for the door to be unlocked.
For years residents of Noyac, Sag Harbor and North Sea have complained that helicopter traffic to and from the East Hampton airport has disrupted their lives, rattling windows and interrupting outdoor conversations. Prodded by complaints, elected officials have lobbied authorities and the Federal Aviation Administration to take action to control the traffic.
“We actually had to show that the FAA has the authority to regulate helicopter traffic,” said Bishop. “They didn’t want to.”
“We tried to get pilots to comply with voluntary routing, but we couldn’t get enough pilots to agree,” said Bishop. “But I feel the routes were flawed; they only went over certain areas.”
A proposed route that takes copters out over Long Island Sound, but allows them to cross over the Pine Barrens, still has the traffic move over residential areas on both the north and south forks.
“We’ll be issuing proposals for routes, but I don’t believe what has been proposed works. It works for Nassau County and the western part of Suffolk, but it doesn’t work for Eastern Long Island,” said Bishop.
The proposal Bishop and other local officials are suggesting is two-pronged, with a northern route and a southern route. The northern route keeps eastbound helicopters out over Long Island Sound until they reach Orient Point, where they would then turn back to approach the airport over Northwest and Barcelona Neck.
A southern route is designed to take some pressure off the northern route by having helicopters travel out over the ocean until they reach Georgica, at which point they would turn north to the airport. At all times they would be required to maintain a minimum altitude while traveling over residential areas. As proposed, that altitude is 2,500 feet, but Bishop said they were pushing for 3,000 feet.
Bishop conceded, however, that the southern route has its complications, particularly concerns that flights out of Teterboro Airport and Manhattan would interfere with Kennedy Airport airspace.
To date, the FAA has received over 1,000 comments about the proposed route.
“Hopefully their decision will reflect the comments from myself and other East End officials, like [Southampton Town Councilwoman] Bridget Fleming and [State Assemblyman] Fred Thiele,” said Bishop. “I want to make sure the regulations are going to solve the problems here.”
Some residents were concerned that, even if the new routes and height regulations were adopted, enforcement would be an issue. East Hampton Airport is presently an unregulated airport, with no controller communicating with aircraft.
“There is talk about a manned tower, which would then be regulated,” said the congressman. “Anytime an air traffic controller gives an instruction to a pilot, they must adhere to it.”
Indeed, on September 2, East Hampton Town adopted an update to their Airport Master Plan which, among other things, recommends the installation of a seasonal air traffic control tower, located in a portable building on the airport grounds. The revisions call for a “no growth policy,” meaning expansion of the airport facilities will be limited. They also call for re-opening runway 4-22 and converting runway 16-32 to a taxi way. The primary runway, 10-28, will not be changed.
The master plan and a layout for the airport will now be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval. If approved, the town will then be able to apply for controlled airspace around the airport enabling the town to hire a seasonal air traffic controller to direct landings and takeoffs.
And if the FAA chooses to ignore the comments from East Enders?
“Then it’s going to be me, Schumer and Gillibrand going after them,” said Bishop.