Helicopter Companies Agree to Fly New Route Around Orient

Jeff Smith, vice president of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, explains new noise abatement routes to the Wainscot Citizens Advisory Committee on Saturday, March 7. Peter Boody photo

The metro area helicopter companies that fly between New York and East Hampton Airport, prompting thousands of noise complaints from aggrieved homeowners across the East End, have agreed to fly newly modified voluntary noise abatement routes that East Hampton Town’s airport management published on the town website in late January.

The routes keep traffic from flying across the North Fork and also reduce flights over East Hampton village, Bridgehampton and Sagaponack.

Jeff Smith, vice president of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, announced at the March 7 monthly meeting of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee that his group’s membership had agreed to fly the routes, which have been changed this year in an effort to cut down on helicopter noise on the North Fork, in eastern Southampton Town and the village of East Hampton.

“What we’re trying to do is keep most of the flights over water,” Mr. Smith said in a follow-up phone interview.

In answer to questions from the CAC members, Mr. Smith confirmed an account in this newspaper last week that his membership had not yet agreed to fly the routes when the town published them and had done so only the last few days.

“Now I have a consensus that’s what they’re going to do,” he told the CAC. He added later that his membership has a good record complying with the routes each year.

For more than a decade, it has been routine for the airport management to develop and negotiate the strictly voluntary noise abatement routes in cooperation with the ERHC and then publicize them. The Town Board has never formally signed off on the routes because, under national airspace law, localities have no authority to create or impose them; nor does the FAA play any role in developing or endorsing them.

Although there were questions and concerns, none of the CAC members at the meeting Saturday objected to the route changes, the most dramatic of which is to make the Echo route over the Northwest area of East Hampton Town — formerly for departures only headed to the North Shore — what the airport management calls the “primary” pathway for all traffic headed both to and from New York via Long Island Sound.

Mr. Smith, however, told the CAC that his membership, concerned about traffic conflicts, would use the Echo route mostly for arrivals from the North Shore along Long Island Sound. That traffic will go around Orient Point before turning southeast toward the airport.

The old November route along the South Fork’s power lines — intended initially for arrivals only — will be mostly for departures but they will head to the south shore, transitioning to the ocean at Shinnecock Inlet, Mr. Smith said.

In addition to avoiding conflicts, the two routes will split the round-trip helicopter traffic 50-50, Mr. Smith said, so one area does not get all of it.

Among other changes, traffic headed to the airport from the west along the South Shore this year will turn north at Shinnecock Inlet — a new pathway this year — to join the old November arrival route, which runs from Robbins Island to the power lines along the South Fork in Southampton Town from North Sea to Long Pond south of Sag Harbor.

Those modifications eliminate South Shore arrival and departure legs that for years put inbound helicopters over East Hampton village from the shoreline; and both inbound and outbound traffic flying between the Atlantic and the airport over Bridgehampton and Sagaponack. Both have been noise complaint hotspots.

In response to a question at the CAC meeting, Mr. Smith called a comment “incorrect” that was made by a North Fork resident and quoted in last week’s story that the routes set no minimum distance from shore for traffic headed around the North Fork.

While single-engine helicopters will continue to fly at least a mile offshore, he said, the waypoints used for route guidance by larger twin-engine helicopters will put them five to seven miles offshore.