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Bishop vows to act on helicopter noise

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) Credit: John Roca

Rep. Tim Bishop promised a room filled with angry East End residents that he would convene a meeting soon to hammer out a solution to the problem of helicopter noise over their homes, which now lie under the only direct flight path into East Hampton Airport.

Dozen of residents -- mostly from the Southampton Town communities of Noyack, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton -- said at the Thursday night meeting they were upset to learn that officials did not have clear answers about who is responsible for the change in flight paths. Complaint calls to Southampton Town Hall about airport noise have shot up since the new flight route was put into effect this month.

"I can't tell a helicopter pilot what to do," Bishop told the more than 100 people at a senior center in Bridgehampton. "All I have is the power of persuasion."

Bishop (D-Southampton), who said he has been working on the matter for eight years, said he will convene as quickly as possible a meeting with officials from both towns, airport personnel and representatives from the FAA and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

Elected officials will meet Monday with FAA representatives at Brookhaven Town Hall.

Representatives from the offices of Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand attended Thursday's meeting, as did Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Southampton Councilwomen Christine Scalera and Bridget Fleming, and a representative from Legis. Jay Schneiderman's office.

Many residents said East Hampton should no longer take money from the FAA so the airport can be independent of certain restrictions, such as being able to impose curfews. Helicopters now fly in all night long. Others talked about staggering paths and forcing helicopters to fly at least 3,500 feet high.

Residents talked about experiencing insomnia and anxiety from having 30 to 40 aircraft, mostly helicopters but some fixed-wing planes, go over their homes day and night. Some helicopters fly so low, many said, that they can read the aircraft numbers.

"Legal options are not out of the question here," Throne-Holst told the crowd, although she said working with East Hampton officials is preferable.

At the beginning of the month, a new flight path to East Hampton Airport went into effect, combining different takeoff and landing routes into a single route. The helicopter council said the change was in response to new FAA rules that force them to fly east over Long Island Sound. Others, including Bishop, say the problem is exacerbated by a new airport seasonal control tower that has traffic controllers directing the pilots. More people directing routes in and out of the airport further confuses who is responsible, critics say. Helicopter pilots are not bound by any rules when it comes to landing and taking off. Before the tower was erected, they flew into the airport by sight, radioing other pilots of their plans.

Bishop has set up an email address for noise complaints: helicopternoise@mail.house.gov.

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