We think the towns all got it right this time. We agree that Senator Schumer’s plan for mitigating helicopter traffic and noise may be satisfactory to residents in Nassau and western Suffolk, but the residents on the East End — and particularly those in Noyac, North Sea, Sag Harbor and North Haven — will continue to be unfairly victimized unless the proposal is changed.
Schumer’s plan takes helicopters out over Long Island Sound until they hit Shoreham, where they can then cross land to get to the local airports. The problem is the route to East Hampton Airport takes them right over our homes.
We understand that we need to allow traffic to the local airport, but what the Schumer proposal doesn’t account for is a second, southerly route, that would also send air traffic out over the ocean to cross over Georgica to get to the airport. We’re prepared to accept our share of the burden if our neighbors south of the highway are ready to accept their’s.
The Schumer plan, while well intentioned, is simply inadequate. But that is easily remedied if a southerly route is added into the legislation (East Hampton Airport managers have already been urging copter pilots to come in over the ocean to reduce the burden to the north). While the public comment period is officially over, let your local, state and federal officials know that you don’t want to bear all the burden of helicopter traffic.
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.
It’s February and we’re still deep in winter—but in just a month spring will arrive and with it the birds of spring will return…and also the noisy helicopters ferrying people to and from the Hamptons that have so disrupted life on eastern Long Island in recent years.
But Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine and his staff have been busy in preparation of the chopper invasion and last week introduced new legislation to quell the helicopter racket.
At the Suffolk Legislature’s last meeting of 2008, Mr. Romaine’s last measure seeking to dim the helicopter din was narrowly defeated. There was a near-tie on his bill to establish a minimum cruising altitude of 2,500 feet for helicopters flying in Suffolk. Eight legislators voted yes, nine no and there was one abstention.
After that bill lost, Mr. Romaine vowed to his fellow lawmakers that “this is not going to go away.” He would be back with new legislation with the new year, and “I’ll bring the people.”Â Large numbers of people affected by the noise can be expected in coming months to be at legislative meetings urging legislators to vote for Mr. Romaine’s new bill.
His new measure is different from his previous legislation in that it doesn’t set a minimum altitude requirement. Helicopter operators and a representative of the FAA maintained that the federal government pre-empted localities from establishing minimum altitude requirements for aircraft.
So this time although there’s no set minimum altitude—offsetting this claim—Mr. Romaine’s bill focuses on flying in a “careless and reckless manner.” And it defines this as “failing to take all actions reasonably necessary for safe operation or operating at an altitude that creates a hazard or undue hardship for persons and property on the surface.”
This certainly hits the problem on the head because the roaring choppers certainly have created an “undue hardship” for people on the ground.
Mr. Romaine and his aide Bill Faulk have spent considerable time digging into federal and state court decisions and have found that prohibiting flying in a “careless and reckless manner” is within the powers of localities.
The bill sets forth the situation: “Low flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County,” it begins. “The Federal Aviation Administration has failed to regulate the operation of helicopters,” it notes—accurately. “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.” Further, “other municipalities, including the City of New York, have established regulations for helicopter operations within their jurisdictions. Therefore,” it concludes, “the purpose of this law is to ensure safe operations of helicopters passing through the air boundaries of Suffolk County and to preserve and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the residents of Suffolk County.”
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.” The prospect of jail surely would impact on the chopper operators.
Mr. Romaine’s strategy also involves using a Suffolk County stand to get action on the federal level. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Tim Bishop have tried to negotiate with the helicopter operators—but there was no relief. Mr. Romaine sees county action as being “an irritant” to spur federal movement.
The FAA—with a mission to promote air travel, apparently even noisy chopper traffic—has, meanwhile, been nowhere on the issue.
That, says Legislator John Kennedy, Jr., an attorney, is a key opening for local legislation. When the supposed regulatory body “hasn’t fully occupied the field, there may be a role for statute of a lesser level of government,” he notes. “I think it’s Swiss cheese. I think there is a place for us that actually helps to protect our constituents.”
Legislator Dan Losquadro speaks of “the only time we’ve seen any effort” on the federal level being when the county has moved to “put something on the books that would call these practices into question. And absent of that, there has been…some press conferences…I fully support us doing something to give ourselves a measure of local control.”
The Hamptons helicopter business has marred warm weather months on eastern Long Island in a cacophony of intense noise—which must be quelled.
If there was any question about the Federal Aviation Administration being out to lunch when it comes to doing something about the noisy helicopters ferrying people between Manhattan and the Hamptons, the presentation last week of an FAA official reinforced its nowhere status.
FAA Regional Executive Manager Diane Crean came before the Suffolk Legislature and declared that the FAA is against a bill authored by Legislator Edward Romaine that seeks to diminish the noise of the choppers by establishing a minimum 2,500-foot cruising altitude for helicopters in Suffolk.
Ms. Crean started off by declaring that the federal government pre-empts all other government jurisdictions in regulating aircraft. The federal government, she said, has “supreme” power in this area through the FAA.
But, said Legislator John Kennedy of Hauppauge, this “is an issue that has affected all of us…My constituents ask me what to do about the overbearing noise of helicopters.” They “vibrate” the windows of their houses. “I would ask you: what are we to do?”
Ms. Crean announced a telephone number Long Islanders could call: 631-755-1300. It is the number of the FAA’s Flight Standards District Office in Farmingdale, she said. But, she went on, the main function of this office is looking into “low-flying” aircraft that are a “hazard to people and property on the ground.” But, as to altitude, choppers sometimes need to fly very low, she said. They “need to maneuver up and down.”
Mr. Romaine of Center Moriches jumped in and pressed Ms. Crean about the FAA’s standard for the “minimum altitude” for choppers.
It is 300 feet, said Ms. Crean. .
“Can anybody fly lower than that?” Mr. Romaine asked.
Yes, said Ms. Crean, if “visual conditions” warrant it.
“You mean 200 or 150 or 100 feet,” he observed.
He asked if the FAA had “any set flight plans” for the large number of choppers which have been flying between Manhattan and Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, the Southampton Village heliport and the East Hampton Airport and creating a huge racket for people below.
No, said the FAA official.
Mr. Romaine summed up the situation. The FAA’s stance is that “we control” chopper traffic “because we have the law” but, in fact, it doesn’t control it. It will allow choppers to fly at any altitude and without any plans. The FAA policy on choppers, he said, is: “Essentially, you’re on your own.” Mr. Romaine said if in Suffolk County “we do nothing else but wake people up about this,” it would be important.
“Quite frankly,” Mr. Romaine told the FAA official, the FAA has “failed in your responsibility.” He said “we’re happy to let the federal government run” aircraft operations, but that must mean “you run it.”
He said he would “let my bill go away” but only if there is a “solution” to the helicopter noise problem. It is winter now, he noted, and the problem has lessened, but it will “start up” again in the spring and extend through the summer and fall—and could be worse than ever. One chopper company, he said, has already begun advertising six round-trip helicopter flights between Manhattan and the Hamptons for $28,000, “a real bargain…This issue is not going to go away.”’Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Then Mr. Kennedy announced from behind the legislature’s horseshoe-desk that “I just dialed 631-755-1300” on his cell phone. “I got a recording.”
The FAA, as Ms. Crean’s performance demonstrated, like so many supposed federal regulatory agencies, is not a watchdog but a lapdog for the industry it is supposed to regulate.
When it came to the Shoreham nuclear plant, Suffolk County stood up to a federal bureaucracy similar to the FAA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which also claimed federal “pre-emption.” By vigorously taking on the federal government on Shoreham legislatively, before the NRC and in the courts, Suffolk shone the light and it won. What many said could never happen did: a dangerous facility was stopped from operating. A victory over the noisy Hamptons helicopters is similarly possible. Passage of the Romaine bill is important as a tool in this new needed challenge.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has declared that he would sign a bill authored by Legislator Edward Romaine that would—to diminish noise from helicopters taking people between Manhattan and the Hamptons—establish a minimum 2,500 foot cruising altitude for choppers over Suffolk.
But members of the Levy administration and various other fellow Democrats were going in another direction at a meeting of the legislature’s Public Works and Transportation Committee two week ago. There, in a 3-to-3 vote, the bill was blocked from going to the full legislature for a vote.
When discussion on the bill came up, the committee’s chairman, Brian Beedenbender, who until the start of the year was a Levy aide, moved immediately to table it. Legislator Steven Stern, a Democrat like Mr. Beedenbender, seconded the motion. “I’d like to know what the reasoning is behind tabling,” interjected Mr. Romaine, a Republican.
“Sure, I’ll explain,” said Mr. Beedenbender, but “before I go, Gail is there something you would like to share with us?” He was referring to Gail Lolis, a deputy county attorney in the Levy administration. She then said that the proposed law “is pre-empted” by the federal government.
“Do I get an opportunity to ask some questions?” asked Mr. Romaine, pressing Ms. Lolis on New York City and New York State laws “that govern altitude of helicopters that…have been on the books for long periods of time.”
Mr. Beedenbender jumped in to say “I don’t know how we enforce” the bill. “It’s very simple, Mr. Chairman,” said Mr. Romaine. Radar tracking that can be accessed “right on your personal computer” gives the altitude of helicopters in flight. His office has done this, said Mr. Romaine. “You sit right on a laptop and do all of this and do your enforcement through that, not a problem.”
On the pre-emption issue, Legislator John M. Kennedy, Jr., an attorney and Republican, said: “I find that when we pass legislation where there may be a question with preemption, it does seem to help…effect a positive change for out constituents.”
Legislator Dan Losquadro, also a GOPer, said, according to the official transcript of the meeting, that “like many other issues where the federal government has failed us, we take it upon ourselves to address those issues.”
But Deputy County Executive Ben Zwirn raised concern “about the enforcement part…The county exec…has said publicly if the bill comes to his desk, he’ll sign.” But “how do you enforce this?” Mr. Zwirn noted that Mr. Romaine “says you can do it by computer,” but he questioned how this can be done.
“Because all of the helicopters have transponders and you can identify them on the screen,” said Mr. Romaine. “These helicopters are flying to essentially three heliports all on the East End: Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton. You can identify exactly who they are and you can trace them…And it is relatively simple to do. It’s not a huge commitment of money, and we would attempt to do that.”
Then came the vote on the measure. Legislators Romaine, Kennedy and Losquadro voted for the bill to go to the legislature and Beedenbender, Stern and Wayne Horsley voted against it. It was party-line balloting: three Republicans for, three Democrats against.
“I hope partisan politics didn’t play into the committee’s decision to vote against my bill,” said Mr. Romaine in a statement issued after the October 7th meeting,
That would, indeed, be outrageous considering that noise pollution is not a partisan issue. And the choppers have become the source of the most serious noise pollution in Suffolk.
Meanwhile, Mr. Romaine re-introduced the bill last week hoping it can get through the committee on a second try. Legislator Ricardo Montano, a Democrat but one who repeatedly breaks with his party, was absent from the committee meeting. “I was tied up at the office—but I would have voted for it if I was there,” Mr. Montano told us last week.
Â Having substantially more helicopters fly to and from East Hampton Airport on a “southern route”—south of Long Island and over a strip of land which includes Georgica Pond—was a main theme at a meeting of officials last week at the field.
East Hampton Airport has been the biggest source of public complaints about noise generated by commercial helicopters taking people between Manhattan and the Hamptons of any airport on Long Island. Francis Gabreski Airport in Westhampton is the second most troublesome field for chopper noise complaints followed by the Southampton Village helipaid.
Earlier in the year, an agreement was worked out between Congressman Tim Bishop, Senator Charles Schumer and helicopter operators to change the flight paths of the choppers to reduce noise.
Â “Now that we’ve had a season under our belt, what is clear is that the numbers of helicopters using a northern route”—one that has included the North Fork and Shelter Island—to and from East Hampton Airport “is 80 percent, while 20 percent have been using the southern route,” said Jon Schneider, aide to Congressman Tim Bishop, a participant at the September 30 meeting. “What can be done to get the numbers closer to 50-50?”
The situation now is “unfair to a lot of North Fork and Shelter Island residents,” said Mr. Schneider. “Ultimately, you have to look at what’s fair.”
The “southern route” would involve, said Mr. Schneider, choppers going to and from Manhattan and East Hampton Airport by flying over the ocean just off the south shore barrier beaches and over the Georgica Pond strip.
But a key issue in getting more helicopters to fly this route is dealing with space restricted to chopper traffic over and near John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens.
Â “Tim Bishop and Chuck Schumer’s offices will have to do some lifting on this with the Federal Aviation Agency,” said Suffolk Legislator Edward Romaine of Center Moriches, who was also at the meeting.
Representing Mr. Schumer at the session was his aide Gerry Petrella.
How a route along the ocean and over Georgica Pond would be effective in reducing the noise of helicopters heading to and coming from East Hampton Airport was cited last year in a proposed “Master Plan Report” for the field done by the consulting firm of Savik & Murray of Ronkokoma. “One approach and departure corridor…was found to be substantially better than the existing routes,” said the report. s the report done by route wouldÂ
Choppers could, it noted, fly over the Atlantic and “branch off” to “over-fly Georgica Pond” and a thin strip of surrounding land. “This is the minimum sound track,” it said, “and adds little if any flying distance and flight time.”
But the report went on: “It would…expose residents in this area of high value real estate to much greater noise levels than currently exist.”
At the meeting, too, Legislator Romaine said he pressed for federal action to require manufacturers of helicopters to build them with substantially less-noisy engines, similar, he said, to federal mandates to build less noisy fixed-wing jet aircraft.
Among others at the meeting was Jim Brundige, the East Hampton Airport manager.
A two-part public hearing on a bill authored by Suffolk Legislator Edward Romaine that would restrict helicopters to cruising at no less than 2,500 feet over Suffolk County was closed this week and a vote on the measure could come next month.
Â “The exaggerants are just exaggerating,” insisted Peter Borneman, a helicopter pilot from Ronkonkoma, at the hearing Tuesday in Hauppauge which followed a session last month in Riverhead. He told of having choppers from Long Island MacArthur Airport, near him, fly over his house as low as 500 feet high “and none of the windows rattled. It’s really not a quality-of-life issue.” Those complaining about helicopter noise “probably need contractors” to work on their houses, he said. Mr. Borneman said that Mr. Romaine’s bill “should be done away with.”
On the other side, Gene Polito of NoyacÂ charged that the helicopter operators were “imposing their business ambitions on thousands of people” on the ground and they “operate with seemingly no oversight.” Long Islanders are being subject to “blatant abuse. When will the will of the people be put first?” he asked. He complained that East Hampton Airport—the main destination for choppers taking travelers to and from Manhattan—has altered its “noise complaint line” to specify that the caller “identify” the helicopter being complained about. “Can this be an effort to diminish helicopter complaints?” He said that “no fly zones have been established in sensitive areas. Why not here?” Mr. Polito said: “I applaud Legislator Romaine’s bill.”
Mr. Romaine, after the legislative vote to officially “close” the hearing Tuesday, said that now his bill can go before the legislature’s Public Works and Transportation Committee for a vote. If a committee majority approves it, a vote on the measure by the full legislature could come, he said, when it next meets, October 14.
Mr. Romaine has revised his bill in recent weeks by changing its focus to prohibiting “careless and reckless operation” of choppers and stating that their cruising at less than 2,500 feet is “careless and reckless operation.” This was in large part an effort to deal with the claim that Suffolk is pre-empted by the federal government from imposing regulations on helicopters or any aircraft.
The revision came after Bill Faulk, Mr. Romaine’s legislative aide, conducted research on restrictions on aircraft operations around the nation and found, said Mr. Faulk, “a dozen states have statutes regarding careless and reckless operation of aircraft.” Also, he found that the City of New York has enacted rules that include a minimum altitude for choppers.Â
The proposed law was re-titled “A Local Law to Ensure Safe Operations of Helicopters” and to state that “the operation of helicopters below 2,500 feet is presumed to be a hazard to persons and property on the surface and constitute careless and reckless operation.” It goes on to declare that “other municipalities, including the City of New York, have established minimum altitudes for helicopter operations within their jurisdictions. Therefore, the purpose of this law is to ensure safe operation of helicopters passing through the air boundaries of Suffolk County and to preserve and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the residents of Suffolk County without prohibiting safe passage of helicopters.”
Maintaining repeatedly that Suffolk County is pre-empted by the federal government from regulating helicopters has been the Eastern Region Helicopter Council and its representative, Robert Grotell. At the earlier hearing he told the legislators bluntly that regulating chopper operations “is out of your jurisdiction.”
At this week’s hearing, Mr. Grotell stressed what he said was compliance by most helicopter operators with an agreement on altitude and routing reached earlier this year between U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Representative Tim Bishop and his organization.
Mr. Grotell also said that helicopter traffic has been down by 11 percent this year at East Hampton Airport, up 10 per cent at Suffolk County’s Francis Gabreski Airport, both compared to traffic last year, and down 50 percent at the Southampton Village helipad as compared to two years ago.
Mr. Romaine, of Center Moriches, engaged in a dialogue with Mr. Grotell at the hearing over Mr. Grotell’s reference to the group’s monitoring of the altitude and routing of choppers and finding the agreement with Senator Schumer and Mr. Bishop largely being adhered to. Mr. Romaine pressed him on how the altitude of the helicopters has been determined. Mr. Grotell said this was through on-board systems on more than 50 percent of choppers which signal their altitude.
“Some say altitude is unenforceable,” commented Mr. Romaine, speaking of determining how high choppers are flying. “You’ve just proven that it’s not.”
Also at the hearing, Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher of East Setauket, a co-sponsor of the Romaine bill, said that the measure has “led to a good meeting” recently with “representatives of Senator Schumer and Congressman Bishop” at which “we made progress” at further varying chopper routes including “reducing North Fork” traffic. As part of the Schumer-Bishop agreement with the helicopter operators, a substantial amount of what had been South Fork traffic was routed to fly over northern Brookhaven Town, the North Fork and Shelter Island and then to East Hampton Airport.
The Romaine bill states that “low flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County and threaten life or property of its residents” and that “the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to regulate the operations of helicopters.”
It provides penalties for cruising below 2,500 feet of “a fine of up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison per offense.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy intends to sign into law the bill introduced by Suffolk Legislator Edward Romaine establishing a minimum altitude for helicopters flying over Suffolk if the measure passes the legislature. He is concerned, though, that it will be overturned on the basis of the federal government pre-empting localities from setting restrictions on aircraft. That pre-emption claim, however, is being challenged by research just done by a Romaine staffer which found that New York City has imposed standards for helicopter operations, also because of noise.
In any event, Mr. Levy said last week: “I will support any effort to curtail these choppers.” He said “we are already looking at increasing the fees at Gabreski for helicopters.” Suffolk County owns Francis Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and sets take-off and landing fees for helicopters and fixed wing aircraft at it.
Gail Clyma of Westhampton, who has been battling noisy helicopters at Gabreski, said higher fees “would be a good first step” and should be “several times the current charge for the largest planes since the disturbance ‘copters create is way out of proportion to their size.”
Representatives of helicopter operators have, since Mr. Romaine introduced his bill to require choppers to cruise at no less than 2,500 feet over Suffolk, claimed that the county is “pre-empted” by the federal government in regulating aircraft. But Bill Faulk, legislative aide to Mr. Romaine, has found that under the “Rules of the City of New York” is a section titled “Helicopter Noise and Safety” which reads: “To prevent unnecessary noise all takeoffs and landings at public use heliports in the city shall be made over water” and “except where necessary for takeoff or landing…no person may operate a helicopter in the City of New York below…an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle.”
Said Mr. Romaine last week: “This contradicts those who have maintained that Suffolk County is pre-empted.”
Mr. Faulk said he has found no indication of the city rules being overturned, and he has found limits in various states.
Meanwhile, the Number 2 official in the Suffolk government, William Lindsay, presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature, declared last week: “I think some our citizens are being abused by this helicopter industry…It’s a major, major problem.” He and other members of the legislature were fully introduced to it as residents who suffer from the noise of helicopters ferrying people between Manhattan and the Hamptons testified at a public hearing on the Romaine bill two weeks ago. Also at the hearing, Robert Grotell of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council made the pre-emption argument, with Mr. Lindsay responding: “We probably are pre-empted, but that issue has never stopped this legislature.” This was met by applause from the capacity audience.
Among the dozens speaking was Barbara McAdam of Cutchogue who told of “the skies filled with the incessant noise of commuter helicopters.”
Patricia Curry of Noyac testified that “the level of noise is absolutely horrendous.” She said that helicopter traffic in and out of East Hampton Airport—acknowledged as the busiest field for chopper traffic in Suffolk—was 17 percent higher last year than it was the year before and is being projected as increasing from 15 to 20 percent in each of the next two years. “Unless something is done,” said Ms. Curry, “the future will be worse.”
Ray Huntington of Cutchogue said of the Romaine bill: “Three little words: it is necessary.”
The measure declares that “low-flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County” and the “recent agreement between public officials and helicopter operators”—a deal worked out by Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Tim Bishop with the industry—“has failed to alleviate the public nuisance.”
The helicopter noise situation has, meanwhile, become an issue in the race now underway in the lst Congressional District. The Republican nominee, Lee Zeldin, is charging that Democrat Bishop “has not done enough.”
A huge public nuisance is involved and, as for Mr. Romaine’s bill, it is necessary.
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”Â 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”Â 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—Â onÂ 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,”Â 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-emptedÂ local jurisdiction and designated the FAA as the agency responsible for aviation activity,”Â 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 agreementÂ 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,”Â said Mr. Reilly.Â