A quieter flight plan; Aviation officials create new guidelines aimed at cutting down noise from choppers traveling to East End

Responding to an outcry from Long Islanders over helicopter noise, a group of helicopter and airport operators, along with federal air officials, yesterday recommended a prescribed North Shore route for choppers flying back and forth to the Hamptons.

The voluntary route, which begins and ends at Execution Rocks Lighthouse off Sands Point, would take helicopters about a mile out over the Long Island Sound at a minimum altitude of 2,500 feet, Federal Aviation Administration officials said. The current voluntary altitude guideline for helicopters is 2,000 feet.

Newsday learned of the new route yesterday following a meeting of the group in Queens.

"This is a major step forward," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who created the committee that crafted the new route.

"We still have to make sure the routes over the middle of the Island and along the South Shore get equal attention," Schumer said. "And we still have to come up with strong enforcement to make sure helicopters that don't follow the prescribed routes, weather permitting, get the appropriate sanctions."

Jim Peters, the spokesman for the FAA's eastern region, said it could take several months to chart and publish the route. If it isn't done by the summer, the height of the helicopter season, procedures will still be in place to allow operators to fly the route anyway, Peters said.

Expectations are that the newly prescribed route will divert about 40 percent of the chopper traffic that now flies over land and put it over the Sound, he said.

"We believe the route will provide a safe passage for helicopters to and from the East End and much needed noise relief," Peters said.

He noted, however, that the FAA can't enforce the route because the helicopters do not enter commercial air space.

David Nuss, chairman of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, an industry advocate group, said member operators typically fly over the Sound or over the ocean on the South Shore anyway.

Still, he said, the route should help new or transient operators.

Nuss said the new route, "should provide relief for a good deal of people who have expressed concerns," particularly on the more trafficked North Shore.

"We'll see what the response is in the summer when the traffic picks up," he said.

When that happens, Donna Szewczyk and her husband, Tom, Port Washington residents who have complained about the noise, are hoping to greet the sound of silence with loud applause, they said.

Hopefully, she said, "We can get our lives back again, enjoy telephone conversations, television, life on the deck and sleep."

Flying higher, quieter?

Helicopter traffic routes used regularly across the Island have sparked many complaints about chopper noise.

A new voluntary, prescribed North Shore route would keep helicopters about a mile north of the land and divert 40 percent of the traffic over the Long Island Sound.

FAA voluntary guidelines for minimum altitude:

How high

Current: 2,000 feet

New: 2,500 feet