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FAA mum on whether it will extend contested North Shore Helicopter Route over East End

A helicoptor flies over Southold on Thursday, May

A helicoptor flies over Southold on Thursday, May 11, 2017.  Credit: Randee Daddona

Federal officials have not said whether a mandatory North Shore helicopter route — a regulation that prompted years of noise complaints from East End residents while quieting skies for others — will be extended past its Aug. 6 expiration date.

In 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration made the New York North Shore Helicopter Route mandatory for helicopters flying along the North Shore of Long Island. The route requires pilots to fly about a mile offshore until they reach the North Fork, when they transition south while traveling to the Hamptons.

The FAA, which temporarily extended the regulation in 2014 and 2016, has not said whether it will do so again or let the policy end.

“With respect to the New York North Shore Helicopter Route Rule, the FAA will comment at the appropriate time,” an FAA spokeswoman said in a statement. “We do not comment on pending legislation.” 

The North Shore route “created hell” for residents under its path, said Jim Underwood, a Laurel resident and a member of the Southold Town Helicopter Noise Steering Committee.

“All of a sudden I would have 40 helicopters flying over my house in a day, particularly Thursdays through Sundays,” the days people typically travel to and from the Hamptons in the summer, Underwood said.

Before the route’s adoption, helicopter pilots would also fly over communities in northern and western Suffolk County, impacting residents like Craig Cooper, of Smithtown.

“It was terrible,” Cooper said, adding that he fears what will happen if the route expires. “In the context of everything that’s going on in the world right now, people want their peace.”

In October 2018, the federal government passed a bill requiring the FAA to re-evaluate the route, and the agency is reviewing more than 300 comments on the issue.

Meanwhile, New York’s U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, have introduced a bill that would require helicopters flying along the North Shore to travel past Orient Point and around Plum Island as they transition south. A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he has signed on to a similar bill in the House that was introduced by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove).

Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said the senator planned to meet with FAA officials Tuesday evening to discuss the North Shore route.

“We cannot accept a return to the ‘Wild West’ over the skies of Long Island where pilots fly low and loud wherever they want and bring unrelenting noise and disruption to countless communities,” Schumer said in a statement.

Mattituck resident Teresa McCaskie, an anti-noise advocate and member of the Southold committee, said many residents are hoping East Hampton Airport, the destination of many flights, will close when federal mandates expire in 2021.

“We thank the senator for trying to make adjustments ... but to be quite honest, shifting routes to one another [location around Long Island] is like playing whack-a-mole," she said.

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