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North Shore helicopter routes: FAA weighs options

The Federal Aviation Administration's mandatory North Shore route

The Federal Aviation Administration's mandatory North Shore route for helicopters flying across Long Island -- and the noise created -- has upset residents who live under the crossover paths in Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island and elsewhere. Above, helicopters at East Hampton Airport on Friday, June 26, 2015. Credit: Doug Kuntz

Federal officials are silent on whether they will extend a mandatory North Shore route for helicopters flying across Long Island beyond its Aug. 6 expiration date.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman declined to say Friday whether the route will remain in place, raising questions among some residents and officials over whether the policy will change or end.

“We will let you know as we get closer to the expiration date what the plan will be on the rule, but that’s all we can say at this point,” said FAA spokesman Jim Peters.

Helicopter pilots had flown the North Shore route voluntarily since 2008. The FAA made it mandatory in 2012 in an attempt to address complaints by Long Island residents over the noise from thousands of helicopters passing between Manhattan and the Hamptons during the summer months.

The FAA most recently extended the rule from Aug. 6, 2014, through Aug. 6, 2016, but has so far taken no action to renew it again. The RiverheadLOCAL news website first reported that the agency had not issued a public “notice of proposed rulemaking” for an extension.

The North Shore route requires helicopter pilots to pass over Long Island Sound about a mile offshore until they reach the North Fork, when they cross over land until they reach destinations on the South Fork. They follow a similar route in the opposite direction.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) supports a North Shore route that takes helicopters past Orient Point and around Plum Island, as well as an all-over-water South Shore route. He “continues to urge the FAA to expand the current North Shore route to help the thousands of East End residents who are continuously burdened by the constant drone of helicopter noise,” Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said by email Sunday.

The rule is controversial among some residents who live under the crossover paths in Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island and elsewhere.

“We’re watching it, and wondering what the FAA is going to be doing,” said Teresa McCaskie, chairwoman of the Southold Town Helicopter Noise Steering Committee.

Two helicopters could be heard passing over McCaskie’s home in Mattituck in a five-minute span during a phone conversation Friday evening. “I live in a war zone,” she said.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has called on the FAA to require helicopter pilots to fly along the South Shore and remain over water until they near destinations such as East Hampton Airport.

“We’re pressuring the FAA for an update on this,” Zeldin spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena said Friday. “We’re also pursuing a more permanent fix on the South Shore all-water route.”

Jeff Smith, a helicopter pilot and vice president of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council trade group, said Friday that he had not heard from the FAA about the future of the North Shore route.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said helicopters should never cross over the North Fork.

“The North Shore route should be taking everyone around Orient-Plum Island,” he said. “No route should take anyone over land.”

Flight plan

2008 — North Shore route is voluntary

2012 — FAA makes route mandatory

2014 — North Shore route is renewed for two years

2016 — Route is scheduled to expire Aug. 6

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