Map showing helicopter traffic as aircraft cross the North Fork on their way to East Hampton airport .

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand today called on Steve Dickson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as the next administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, to commit to addressing the problem of overhead aircraft noise in New York.

Schumer and Gillibrand are calling on Dickson to commit to: finalizing the review of public comments on the north shore route that is mandated by law; enforcing an all-water route around Orient Point and Shelter Island; creating a route over the Atlantic Ocean on the south shore for aircraft flying to and from the East End; improving communication between the FAA and noise-affected communities; seeking community input on noise impacts and abatement needs and incorporating concerns into FAA planning; and prioritizing FAA resources towards noise mitigation projects.

“Before we will consider any new nominee to head the FAA, we need to hear from the nominee about what will be done to address the high levels of airplane and helicopter noise that challenge so many communities in Long Island, Queens, the Bronx and elsewhere,” Schumer said in a press release issued Friday evening. “That is why we are demanding that the nominee for FAA administrator commit to listening and responding with specific policy changes to the long-ignored frustrations of New Yorkers overburdened by aircraft noise.”

In a letter sent to Dickson today, Schumer and Gillibrand demanded answers to their concerns before the Senate considers his nomination.

“Communities on the East End of Long Island and in Queens have continuously suffered from the noise of helicopter overflights,” the senators wrote.
“These overflights become unbearable for residents during the summer months when air traffic increases exponentially.”

The senators said the FAA has failed to adequately address the concerns raised by the affected communities and provide for real noise mitigation that improves their quality of life.

“We have repeatedly heard complaints from community groups that the FAA feels inaccessible to them,” they wrote.

Last year’s FAA reauthorization bill included a provision penned by Rep. Lee Zeldin that required the FAA to hold public hearings to directly hear the concerns of Long Island residents. The provision also required the FAA to review the north shore helicopter route, which is responsible for the majority of overhead noise for North Fork residents.

Instead of a public hearing, the agency held three informational workshops on the helicopter issue on Long Island in November. FAA representatives were available to speak with residents about the north shore Helicopter Route. One of the workshops was held at the Riverhead Middle School. Maps and graphics were positioned around the perimeter of the Riverhead Middle School cafeteria and FAA representatives stood by to answer questions. People were invited to submit written comments to the agency at the forum.

Demands by Zeldin and Schumer that the FAA hold a public hearing fell on deaf ears.

The FAA said the workshop format was “consistent with the purpose of the directive, which is to get feedback from the communities affected by the New York north shore helicopter route.”

But the refusal to hold a public hearing on the issue angered local residents and elected officials.

“The workshops they held were more equivalent to a junior high school science fair or a child’s show and tell,” Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said at a Nov. 28 press conference.

The senators said they support a mandatory all-water helicopter route around Orient Point and Shelter Island, and the creation of a route over the Atlantic Ocean on the South Shore, to alleviate the public nuisance caused by helicopters flying over residential areas.

In their letter to Dickson, Schumer and Gillibrand said the FAA public meeting did not fully address residents’ concerns, and that the FAA has not yet produced a timeline to complete the review of the north shore helicopter route. Furthermore, the senators noted that the FAA has not yet completed reviewing the 345 public comments on the review of the north shore helicopter route, even though the public comment period closed over six months ago.

The north shore route was intended to keep helicopters over the Long Island Sound from Manhattan eastward, to quiet the skies of the north shore — in Nassau and western Suffolk, where local residents were complaining about noise. But the rule allows helicopter pilots to “transition” over the North Fork as they make their way to South Fork destinations — mostly the municipal airport in East Hampton.

The north shore route actually made the helicopter noise levels worse for North Fork residents by requiring pilots to stay off the coast until they got out east, with the effect of funneling all NYC-Hamptons helicopter traffic over the North Fork, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said in a past interview.

The rule imposing the north shore route was first adopted 2012, over the objection of helicopter pilots, who sued in federal court to overturn it. A judge upheld the rule. The FAA extended it for two years in 2014 and again in 2016 — that time for four years and without any public comment period. The FAA decided to act on it on an “emergency” basis, surprising and angering elected officials.

Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.