Copter Redux

Posted on 29 May 2009

They’re back!            

Memorial Day weekend arrived, the starting date for the return of many noisy helicopters ferrying people to and from the Hamptons. This was no Long Island counterpart to the swallows of Capistrano. The choppers with their raucous noise came back.

The economy is in a downturn but that apparently isn’t discouraging some folks from shelling out several hundred dollars to go by chopper to and from the Hamptons.

And their flight paths continue to be over many peoples’ heads.

Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine has filed a new bill to deal with the helicopter racket and last week asked residents to turn out for a meeting of the Suffolk Legislature on June 23 in Riverhead to give their viewpoints on the chopper noise and help his resolution get passed.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives last week passed a measure authored by Congressman Tim Bishop instructing the Federal Aviation Administration to study helicopter flights over Long Island. “Those of us who live in Suffolk County are tired of the roar of helicopters disrupting the serenity of our island,” said Mr. Bishop.

The problem is that the U.S. Senate rejected the same measure last year.

“Why aren’t these helicopters flying the ocean route?” demands Mr. Romaine.

The three main destinations for the Hamptons helicopters are all not far from the ocean, he notes. The choppers could fly from Manhattan and then over the ocean, well off Long Island’s south shore, and make turns “at different vectors” into these airfields.

The Southampton Village helipad “is right off the ocean,” he points out, and Suffolk County’s Francis Gabreski and the East Hampton Airport are just a few miles away.

But instead, this Memorial Day weekend—as has been the situation—the choppers were largely routed over northern Long Island and then, over eastern Suffolk, to make turns south to these airfields.

Mr. Romaine’s new bill declares: “Low flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County.” It notes, accurately, that the FAA “has failed to regulate the operation” of these Hamptons helicopters. It says that “the operation of helicopters at low altitudes is presumed to be a hazard to persons and property on the surface and constitutes careless and reckless operation.”

That’s the key to his measure: that choppers flying low—as do the Hamptons helicopters—constitutes “careless and reckless operation,” which Suffolk County government is entitled to stop.

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

A representative of the FAA and advocates of the Hamptons choppers in fighting an earlier Romaine bill on helicopter noise last year insisted that Suffolk County and other local and state governments were pre-empted from regulating aircraft operations by the federal government. However, in preparation for the new battle, Mr. Romaine and his staff have come up with court cases determining that this is not true. The Appellate Division of Superior Court of California, in one case involving low-flying aircraft, dismissed the claim of pre-emption finding: “The state has the right to impose criminal sanctions for the unlawful operation of aircraft above its land and waters.”

Mr. Romaine says it’s important that people come to the public hearing portion of the legislative meeting, to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 23, and “speak out on the issue.” That’s the best way, he said, to “grab the attention” of legislators and get the new chopper bill approved. The meeting will be held at Suffolk County Community College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center at 20 East Main Street, Riverhead,

Mr. Bishop, meanwhile, said he believes an FAA study “is a necessary step toward the goal of reducing helicopter noise of Long Island. I believe it will offer a roadmap for pilots who want to fly over Long Island in a way that is respectful of our communities.”

But if the Bishop measure is to again be blocked in the Senate, and considering that the FAA sees its main mission as encouraging air travel, local Suffolk County action appears vital in taking on the bane of Hamptons helicopter noise.


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2 Responses to “Copter Redux”

  1. Vincent Raicovi says:

    This has become unbearable over the last few years. I moved away from Farmingville and being in the flight-path of MacArthur, only to get the Hampton’s helicopter traffic on the north shore in Rocky Point ten years later. These things fly so low and so often that something needs to be done about it.

  2. Paul Adams says:

    The fact we cannot solve even this simple problem (re-route commuter helicopter flights over the ocean or ban them all together) does not bode well for solving the bigger problems we face. It’s obvious the flights are antisocial, and, at a time the superwealthy have brought the country low, deeply offensive, and the solution straightforward, but special selfish interests seem to be blocking rational change.

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