Helicopters Again: Fight Or Flight?

Helicopter shuttle has the Twin Forks seeing red.

Long-suffering East End residents have turned lobbying against helicopter noise into a year-round activity, but opposition is intensifying of late.

Why? “It’s Memorial Day weekend,” said an official of a pilot’s association, explaining the ratcheting up of helicopter noise and the fury it brings will now move into overdrive as the flights — and the noise — increase markedly.

It’s by no means a burgeoning problem: the condition has existed for more than a decade, and every municipality on the East End has actively sought to redirect the stream of helicopters that flow in and out of East Hampton Airport, especially on weekend days during the season. The reason is that flight paths affect residents for miles in every direction.

Last week, the Town of East Hampton filed legal objections after learning two helicopter companies announced their intention of opening shuttle service to the local airport. The town asked the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine if the new companies were legal.

During the offseason, North Fork municipalities bristled over flight plans that increased the traffic over their communities. Congressman Lee Zeldin pressured the FAA to hold public hearings. As a result, the pilots agreed to voluntarily “disperse routes,” one official said, and try “a 50-50 approach” that would utilize areas south and north of the airport for approaches and takeoffs.

But the FAA did not make any mandatory changes and the pilots’ agreement was an informal one, dependent on the weather in some instances.

The pilots are often stymied by fog on the south route, which heads over the ocean at Mecox Bay, and especially in May and June.

“Weather is an issue,” the official said. “The FAA forbids you. Remember, outside 4.5 miles, the FAA is the sole authority.” In other words, the Town of East Hampton doesn’t have final say in flight paths.

East Hampton is also involved in a complex legal maneuver that could conceivably shut the airport down all together, but that could take years even in the perfect scenario. The town, local pilots, and businesses based at the airport, and others involved with the airport, have been involved in numerous lawsuits over the years.

In July 2015, the town put in place a moratorium on landings and takeoffs of all aircraft from 11 PM to 7 AM, and extended that ban from 8 PM to 9 AM for noisier aircraft. The law was struck down in late 2016 by a federal appeals court, which ruled that if the town wanted to place restrictions on the airport, it needed to do so following the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act, passed in 1990. That law requires that municipalities that want to regulate noisy aircraft to go through what is called a “Part 161” process, in which it presents the FAA with a cost analysis and an exploration of alternative

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