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Consultant: Helicopters failed to follow flight paths in East Hampton

The East Hampton Airport signage, Saturday, Nov. 1,

The East Hampton Airport signage, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. Credit: Randee Daddona

Most helicopter pilots did not follow agreed-upon flight paths intended to reduce noise over the East End in 2013, according to analysts hired by East Hampton Town.

Just 15 percent of flights adhered to the five voluntary routes into and out of East Hampton Airport, consultants told the town board Thursday.

The conclusion was in a lengthy report meant to guide the town board in crafting policies to curb noise next year.

The low compliance rate spurred angry reactions from some residents and elected officials.

"I think those of us who live in this community know that voluntary compliance has been a failure," Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) said to the dozens who attended the meeting. "It's been a failure for a long time."

But pilots and a former airport manager said the data drew an inaccurate picture.

"We felt that the pilots were being extremely compliant, up to 90 percent," Jim Brundige, who managed the airport for 10 years and retired last month, said in an interview Friday. "It just depends on how you measure it. Our measurements were maybe plus or minus a couple hundred feet."

Brundige said the consultants may not have accounted for changes he and pilots made by fine-tuning the routes at least twice last summer. But he also said bad weekend weather that season may have forced pilots off routes more than usual.

Les Blomberg of the Vermont nonprofit Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, who analyzed the data for the town, said Friday he used the routes the town provided and took pains to be fair to pilots.

East Hampton hired Young Environmental Sciences Inc. of Manhasset in July to chart flight paths and noise levels in a 10-mile radius of the airport. The company partnered with Blomberg. They said compliance ranged from 4 percent on one route to 38 percent on another.

Friends of East Hampton Airport, a coalition that includes helicopter pilots who ferry passengers between Manhattan and the Hamptons, described the data as "deeply flawed" in a statement Thursday.

"We always take noise concerns extremely seriously and will continue to work with communities to find common sense solutions," said Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the group.

East Hampton and pilots have negotiated flight paths for about a decade to direct flights over less-populated areas. Residents have complained the routes just move the noise. Town officials are working to craft new regulations at the airport by the end of the year.

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