A federal rule forcing helicopter pilots flying between Manhattan and the East End to travel over water for most of Suffolk to limit noise is set to expire in August, and two lawmakers Tuesday urged the Federal Aviation Administration to renew it and make the route permanent.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) are also urging FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to extend the over-the-water flight path, known as the North Shore route, east all the way around Orient Point, Shelter Island and Plum Island. And they want to extend the route west to the Nassau-Queens border.
"Our goal is to not just solve the problem for western Long Island, not just solve the problem for western Suffolk County, but to solve it for the North Fork and for the North Shore of the South Fork as well," said Bishop, who, along with Schumer, announced their proposal at a news conference in Smithtown.
In a year, helicopter pilots make about 11,800 flights, ferrying passengers from Manhattan to the East End and back mostly between May and September, according to Jeffrey Smith, vice president of operations for the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council.
Helicopter noise has been an issue on the North Shore and the East End, particularly on summer weekends when commuters fly to their beach homes or vacation spots.
Under the current FAA regulation, due to expire on Aug. 6, eastbound pilots using the North Shore route between Huntington and Mattituck must stay at least a mile offshore until they can cross land to get to airports in Wainscott and Westhampton Beach, and a heliport in Southampton.
The FAA made the over water North Shore route mandatory in 2012, with exceptions for bad weather and helicopters with no overwater safety equipment, to reduce helicopter traffic.
Schumer said he and Bishop have had "informal" talks with Huerta, but they have not gotten word about whether the rule will be renewed or modified.
"I am optimistic they will do what we want," Schumer said. "I think everyone considered this a success, but you never know."
Spokespeople for the FAA did not respond to requests for comments.
Smith reiterated the helicopter council's position that Schumer's and Bishop's approach to noise mitigation is "misguided" and vowed to fight making the North Shore route permanent.
"We wish that politics would stay chalked at the gate so that real sensible solutions can take place," Smith said.
As for the lawmakers' call for pilots to fly over water throughout Nassau County, Smith said that's impossible because it would interfere with air traffic from LaGuardia Airport.
A one-way trip from Manhattan to the East End is 108 miles and takes about 45 minutes. If pilots are forced to fly around Orient Point and Shelter Island, it would add an additional 54 miles or an extra 20 to 25 minutes, Smith said. Pilots would have to use an extra 20 to 35 gallons of gasoline, depending on the size of the helicopter. For a pilot flying the smallest aircraft, that translates to an additional $800 in fuel and operational costs.
The financial burden, Smith said, would put some small operators out of business.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the time it takes for a helicopter to fly one way from Manhattan to the East End.