Residents irked by new helicopter routes

Flight path changes are over Southampton now instead Flight path changes are over Southampton now instead of East Hampton causing all sorts of noise troubles as helicopter lands at East Hampton Airport. (Aug. 22, 2012). Photo Credit: John Roca

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A recent change in helicopter flight traffic patterns over the East End has infuriated a group of Southampton residents directly below a route now being used for takeoffs and landings at East Hampton Airport.

Residents of Sag Harbor, Sagaponack, Noyack and North Sea have flooded town hall with calls since the new flight pattern was introduced about two weeks ago, said town officials. One resident logged 12 helicopters over her house in a one-hour period.

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst met with airport officials earlier this week to discuss the issue.

"The hope is that we can appeal to the pilots' association and hope for some voluntary compliance," she said.

Earlier this month, the North Shore Route, a mandatory flight plan for helicopters shepherded through by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) after trying for years to deal with residents' noise complaints, was put in place, requiring helicopters to fly over the Long Island Sound before landing at the airport and after departing.

Flight routes to the airport used to be varied, but a new seasonal control tower in East Hampton now allows helicopters to use the more direct route since there are air traffic controllers keeping track of them once they are in sight of the tower.

A spokesman for the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, Loren Riegelhaupt, said the mandated route is what is forcing its members to fly directly over the same houses every day, instead of staggering the routes as they used to do.

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"They have to go over this really narrow path to the Hamptons," Riegelhaupt said. "The air traffic is constricted, and so we go over the same path again and again and again."

But according to Schumer, the newly imposed regulation doesn't direct where helicopters must fly over land to get to the airport once they reach the East End, although a second part of the law not yet in effect may do just that.

"Our goal is to have these helicopters go completely over water and finally provide some peace and quiet for Long Island residents who have been inundated with incessant helicopter noise for years," Schumer said in a statement.

East Hampton Airport manager Jim Brundige said that town officials met with FAA officials, and that the pilots' council agreed to fly at higher altitudes. Riegelhaupt said the council is also looking to return to using alterative routes.

Affected Southampton residents are holding a 7 p.m. meeting Thursday at the Bridgehampton Senior Center on Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. Throne-Holst, Southampton Councilwoman Christine Scalera and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) will attend.

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