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Letter: Proposed Change To Helicopter Route

A recent proposal put forth by New York State Senator Charles Schumer to alter the North Shore Route for helicopters has the potential to undermine the quality of life for Floral Park and her neighboring communities in Western Nassau, including Bellerose, New Hyde Park, Garden City and Mineola.

The North Shore Route is a path utilized by helicopters exiting from New York City heliports to locations on the East End of Long Island. The current route takes choppers over the Long Island Sound at an altitude of 2,000 feet and is designed to minimize the noise footprint on residential communities. Nonetheless, a helicopter inevitably must arrive at its destination, which in the case of the North Shore Route means it must transition from water to land.

Two years ago, Senator Schumer lobbied the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to mandate what is known as the transition point for the North Shore Route. Prior to this change, pilot discretion determined where choppers gained entry to land. Today, under the current ruling, pilots are required to transition over a sliver of Mattituck, concentrating the impact of noise and angering a small, but rightfully, vocal group of residents, who are bearing the burden of the North Shore Route.

It is no surprise then that the controversy surrounding transition points has prompted another proposal by Senator Schumer. This time, the change if approved by the FAA, would require helicopter pilots, who opt to use the North Shore Route to fly all the way out to Orient Point to transition to East End locales. This diversion would add approximately 50 miles onto the route and another 35 to 45 minutes onto travel time. Supporters of this modification change, such as embattled Congressman Tim Bishop, suggest that the cost of fuel will be the only impact this change has on helicopter travel. Advocates believe such costs can easily be passed onto to the passengers. But, the clientele that can afford to use the helicopter as a means of weekend travel choose to do so in order to save time, not money. So, while extending the North Shore Route out to Orient Point will mollify some residents, it will make the route time prohibitive. To avoid the extra time of traveling to Orient Point, helicopter operators will be left with no choice, but to select an alternative route. The only available alternative is the Track Route.

The Track Route requires pilots to use the Main Line of the Long Island Rail Road as a visual guide, and consequently, places helicopters directly over the communities of Floral Park, Hollis, Queens Village, Bellerose Terrace, Bellerose, Stewart Manor, New Hyde Park, Franklin Square, Garden City Park, Garden City, Mineola and Hicksville. Unlike the North Shore Route, however, helicopters are forced to fly at 500 feet over land, well within the earshot of residents, as Kennedy Airport utilizes the airspace at higher altitudes over the Track Route, to accommodate arriving jet aircraft.  

Today, the Track Route, similar to the North Shore Route, is regularly used during the spring and summer months. Helicopter traffic is shared equitably between both routes thanks in large part to the efforts of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council (ERHC). Nonetheless, if Senator Schumer’s proposal to extend the North Shore Route out to Orient Point is approved, the addition of time will discourage its use and prompt operators to rely exclusively on the Track Route.  

The real solution to helicopter noise over Long Island, therefore, is not extending the over-the-water portion of the North Shore Route, but to eliminate the rule that mandates the transition point over Mattituck. Allowing pilots to fan out their approaches to East End airports and heliports will eliminate the concentration of noise over a few houses in the North Fork and preserve the viability of the North Shore Route. An equitable distribution of helicopter traffic is only possible, if all helicopter routes are equally accessible.

To register your concerns about changes to the North Shore route, I encourage all residents to contact Senator Charles Schumer’s Long Island Office at 631-753-0978. To complain about noise from helicopters, residents are asked to call the Noise Hotline established by the ERHC at 800-319-7410.

Mary-Grace Tomecki

Trustee, Village of Floral Park

Liaison, Town-Village Aircraft Safety Noise Abatement Committee

Liaison for NYS Assemblyman Ed Ra, NY-NY Port Authority Roundtable

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