The noise of Hamptons helicopters overhead continues unabated. The choppers that run between Manhattan and the Hamptons still are flying low and loud. And now the Federal Aviation Administration, which earlier this year said, at long last, it would impose rules to try to reduce the racket made by the Hamptons helicopters says it will delay that for an unknown number of months. It says it needs to study further the 1,000 public comments it received.
The reaction last week to the FAA move was strong. “The FAA has failed in its duty to protect the public,” declared Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine.
State Assemblyman Marc Alessi, at a press conference interrupted multiple times by chopper noise, announced the creation of a website—www.quietskiesli.com—where information can be submitted on noisy chopper flights.
And Shelter Island Supervisor James Dougherty questioned the FAA’s concern for noise-tormented Long Islanders. “I don’t have a high degree of confidence,” he said. “They seem to be very sympathetic to the pilots and their concerns.”
That’s at the crux of the issue. In 1968 Congress “vested in FAA’s administrator the power to prescribe aircraft noise standards,” acknowledges the FAA’s website. In 1976, it issued an “Aviation Noise Abatement Policy” which stated: “The federal government has the authority and responsibility to control aircraft noise by the regulation of source emissions, by flight operational procedures, and by management of the air traffic control system and navigable airspace in ways that minimize noise impact on residential areas.”
But the FAA is chartered to both promote and regulate aviation. This conflict is emphasized by those who have tried to deal with the FAA on noise. As the Vermont-based Noise Pollution Clearinghouse declares on its website (www.noise.org): “The FAA makes no secret of its role as aviation cheerleader.” It notes an FAA publication “with the headline, ‘Two Years of Traffic Growth and Profits Too!’” The FAA is “out of balance” when it comes to noise, says the organization.
The “logical solution,” it says, is “dividing FAA’s roles between more appropriate entities. The FAA should remain the regulator of passenger and aircraft safety. The EPA should be the regulator of environmental quality…The multi-billion dollar airline industry should be the cheerleader of aviation. And local communities should control development of local airports.”
Long Island, as the Hamptons helicopter racket unfortunately continues, can play a part in the needed break-up of the FAA—as it did earlier with another federal agency, the Atomic Energy Commission.
In the early 1970s, testifying at and observing AEC hearings on licensing construction of the Shoreham nuclear plant, Congressman Lester Wolff of Kensington was irate at what he saw: an atomic kangaroo court. The AEC was foremost a nuclear cheerleader, Mr. Wolff concluded. He became a leader in the fight that succeeded in 1975 to abolish the AEC and establish in its place a Nuclear Regulatory Commission and have another government entity, now the Department of Energy, take a promotional role.
In the months ahead, as Long Islanders continue the battle against the noisy Hamptons helicopters and prod the FAA to take firm action, there should be an associated effort: to break up the FAA. This might also help spur the FAA to do what is needed.
As Legislator Romaine again called for last week, the Hamptons choppers “must fly no less than a mile off the north shore” and at a “minimum altitude of 3,000 feet.” They must be “prohibited from traversing land except in designated sparsely populated areas.” And choppers “bound for the East Hampton Airport”—the main landing and take-off point for the Hamptons helicopters—“must fly around Orient Point.”
Further, said Mr. Romaine, “the FAA must open up” Kennedy Airport airspace so that the helicopters “can more easily access the south shore route,” cruising over the ocean and making the short hop over Georgica Pond to and from the East Hampton field.