Editorial: A Noisy Debate

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Airport noise is an aggravation undermining the quality of life for many residents of the North and South Forks who live under the arrival and departure paths to and from the East Hampton Airport.

To many of those aggrieved residents in the Sag Harbor, Noyac and Northwest Woods areas, it would be bad news if the airport’s Sierra noise-abatement route — which kept helicopters away from homes, off the south shore at an altitude of at least 2,500 feet — is discarded as an option for easing the pain for inland residents.

The tower chief at the airport announced last Friday that he no longer wanted helicopters to use the route because they mixed with fixed-wing traffic south of the airport and controllers could not always track them visually. The Eastern Regional Helicopter Council almost immediately told its members that the route was no longer available.

About half of all helicopter traffic has been using the Sierra route, which reduces the number of flights arriving from the west via the airport’s November route over Noyac and departing to the north on the Echo route toward Barcelona Neck. With no Sierra route alternative, those areas would experience a doubling of helicopter flights overhead.

The Sierra route was no cure all. Departing helicopters heading toward the ocean beach flew over Sagaponack, aggravating people there. Arriving helicopters turned inland and descended over East Hampton Village. Homeowners living on or near the oceanfront had to endure the parade of helicopters flying along the beach.

But it did spread out the misery and it probably reduced the number of households impacted by helicopter noise. Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc on Wednesday said the Sierra route remained in effect and the tower chief was not speaking for the town or for aviators who use the airport when he declared it to be over and done with.

Here’s hoping the supervisor is correct. But when it comes to safe operations in the East Hampton Airport air traffic control zone, the tower chief is the final authority. It appears only time will tell which version of this evolving story becomes final.

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