East Hampton officials hope to cut down on noise complaints -- thousands last year -- about helicopters coming into the town-owned airport in Wainscott by spreading takeoffs over two routes.
One new route will go out from the airport to Long Pond and then northeast to Barcelona Neck. The other will cross Georgica Pond and continue out over the Atlantic Ocean, giving helicopter pilots the space to increase altitude and cut down on noise impact.
"The traffic used to come and go over Jessup Neck. Now it will only come in that way," explained airport manager James Brundige.
The informal agreement to use the new departure routes was worked out among pilots, supervisors from several East End towns and East Hampton officials. It also calls for pilots to fly at 3,500 feet as they approach and leave when feasible, although individual pilots will have the final say, based on safety considerations and the weather.
Airport standards last year called for a 3,000-foot approach height, but many residents complained that helicopters often approached at what they estimated was 2,500 feet or, at times, much lower.
"This will spread it [the noise problem] out," Kathy Cunningham, chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said, adding it was too early to tell what the overall impact of the changes will be, because most helicopter traffic comes to East Hampton in July and August.
Last year, almost all the helicopter traffic arriving and departing from East Hampton Airport followed the same routes, creating large clusters of complaints from Noyack, Sag Harbor, North Haven and even the North Fork towns of Southold and Riverhead.
A breakdown of 1,498 complaints filed in July 2012 showed that about one-third came from one person in the Sag Harbor-Noyack area. The identities of complainants were not made public.
Brundige expects helicopter traffic to increase significantly when the weather is better. "It usually starts on Memorial Day weekend, like someone turns on a switch," he said. "It's been off a little so far this year. Part of it was the rainout."
The opening of the airport's seasonal control tower, which was supposed to be in operation from May 1 to Sept. 30, was delayed this year because of a technical change in status under Federal Aviation Administration regulations requiring a new environmental impact study.
That report, needed because it is now classified as a permanent seasonal facility rather than a temporary one, is expected to be completed in the next few days. It will be available at the airport and the East Hampton town clerk's office, and should also be on the town website, Brundige said.
The tower is expected to begin operation in the next few weeks, he added.