Helicopter traffic discussed at Southold meeting

Helicopters sit on the tarmac at East Hampton Helicopters sit on the tarmac at East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott, Aug. 6, 2014. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

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To hear part-time Southold resident Cathy Haft tell it, Monday was a gleaming example of another sun-splashed summer day on the North Fork -- until she heard the buzz of helicopter blades.

"It was such a beautiful morning," said Haft, who attended a meeting Monday night to discuss the Hamptons-bound helicopters that fly over the North Fork. "The ospreys were calling, the winds were blowing, the water was lapping -- and I hear the helicopters coming. This year, it's insane."

Haft was among more than 150 people at a meeting at Southold Town Recreation Center in Peconic to discuss the 44 percent surge in helicopter flights over North Fork towns and what can be done to stop it, including having helicopters fly around Orient Point.

"This year, it's the worst," said Haft, a real estate broker. Haft said she left her Bayberry Road home and went to the beach Monday and counted 34 helicopters hovering and whizzing overhead in the span of two hours.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell, officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and aides to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) also attended the meeting.

Bishop and Schumer have requested the FAA reroute flight paths over water to and from East Hampton Airport.

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From Jan. 1 to Aug. 4 of last year, there were 11,980 takeoffs and landings, 2,681 of them helicopters, according to airport statistics. Over the same period this year, there were 14,057 flights total, 3,852 of them helicopters.

There are still some complaints about private jets using East Hampton Airport, a hub for the wealthy also traveling by helicopter.

Paula Daniel of Peconic said she got a recent scare from a dangerously low helicopter.

"I grabbed the kids and ran into the bushes," she said. "I thought they were going to hit my house, it's so low."

Bishop said the overwater proposal would relieve noise on the North Fork, but would shift helicopter traffic above other neighborhoods, like Northwest Harbor and Northwest Woods.

"Some communities are going to have traffic they don't want," Bishop said.

FAA officials did not comment Monday.

Schumer aide Kyle Strober told the group his boss "has spoken with countless constituents on this issue and visited the homes of those impacted and seen -- and heard -- firsthand what the impacts were of incessant, low-flying helicopters."

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Jeffrey Smith, vice president of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, said pilots comply with FAA mandates and voluntary noise-abatement restrictions near the East Hampton Airport.

Being forced to go around Orient would add 60 miles to a trip. He said, "It would put an unbelievable burden on our small operators."

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