Trying to clear the air

Craig Cooper said he moved his family from Baldwin to Smithtown two years ago in hopes of finding "a more serene place to live," away from congested streets and skies filled with noisy airliners headed for Kennedy Airport.

No such luck.

"We traded being in the landing pattern of JFK, where we had 747s flying over our head, to being in the flight patterns of helicopters flying a thousand feet over our head on their way to the Hamptons," said Cooper, 53, a video producer.

Some relief may finally be in store for Cooper and thousands of other Long Islanders who have made noise complaints about low-flying helicopters ferrying the gentry from New York City out east.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said yesterday that he would host a meeting tomorrow bringing together Federal Aviation Administration brass, major helicopter operators and managers of the East End airports.

"It's as bad as ever, from Floral Park all the way to the East End," Schumer said of helicopter noise. "We're bringing people together to find a solution."

The meeting comes after record numbers of helicopters took off and landed at East Hampton Airport and Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach during the summer, airport documents show. Meanwhile, complaints from residents who live in the flight paths have reached a crescendo.

"It gets to be so loud you have to yell at each other just to have a conversation," said Sag Harbor resident Charles Neuman, president of the Noyac Civic Council, a residents association.

Schumer said he wants the meeting group to hammer out voluntary restrictions that govern where helicopters can fly and how low they can hover. Noise abatement advocates have called for pushing flight paths over the Atlantic Ocean or the Long Island Sound and requiring pilots to fly at a minimum of 3,000 feet.

Helicopter operators said they already follow a voluntary code worked out with airport managers. Their pilots try to fly between 2,000 and 3,000 feet and avoid passing over populated areas, said Bruce Rogoff, chief executive officer of HeliFlite Shares, a charter company based in Manhattan.

"You try to do the shortest distance between two points," Rogoff said. "You also want to do it as considerately as you can."

Schumer said there would not be so many complaints if the helicopter pilots were following the voluntary restrictions. His office received 75 helicopter noise complaints from residents this year. In 2006, East Hampton Airport got 3,000 such complaints.

Schumer has proposed legislation requiring the FAA to study the issue and make recommendations. The bill is in committee and he said he will wait until after the meeting to decide whether to push for greater regulation of helicopter flights.

An FAA spokesman did not return phone calls.

Some communities are not waiting for the federal government to act. In Southold, where choppers are a common sight on their way to East Hampton Airport, town lawmakers have proposed legislation forcing helicopters to fly at above 3,000 feet, and a public hearing is set for Oct. 11.

If passed, Supervisor Scott Russell said the town police department was prepared to enforce the law if the FAA wouldn't.

"My community can't be ignored anymore," Russell said.


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