Friday, 11 June 2010 00:00The FAA has proposed to formalize the voluntary North Shore flight route for helicopters flying to and from Manhattan and the East End that would otherwise operate in the general area of the North Shore. This route is supposed to bring helicopters from Manhattan heliports to the southern tier of the Throgs Neck Bridge then to Execution Rock and then over the Long Island Sound to the east end. In practice the helicopters do not get over water until somewhere near Glen Cove or even further east. This latter path brings the helicopters right over Great Neck, Manhasset and Port Washington.
Apparently Senator Schumer and the FAA were led to believe that our problem is that helicopters are not following the North Shore route and if they did the noise would go away. It is just not that simple because not all aircraft are allowed to fly over water. In addition weather conditions and runway operations at LaGuardia have an impact on the helicopter routes and altitude and therefore the noise. Of course there is also the real possibility that there are pilots that are trying to cut corners.
We need to be able to identify helicopters causing excessive noise and understand why they are on particular routes and at a particular altitude so that meaningful adjustments to the rules may be made.
Tools to identify the helicopters are available and inexpensive but require that we know the approximate time that the noise occurred. Interestingly, the “time of occurrence” data is already collected by the TONH 311 center but is not used to identify offending helicopters. The data is used to record the number of noise complaints but I don’t think that helps solve the core problem. The Eastern Regional Helicopter Council (ERHC), which is a group that represents pilots and corporations using helicopters, would also like to use the call-in information to help us but cannot because there is no “time” information.
Below is some additional information, which may help put the issues into context.
The agreement to use the voluntary North Shore flight route was worked out at meetings between representatives of Senator Schumer, Congressman Bishop, the FAA, the ERHC and Gabreski and East Hampton airports. An essential element of the route is that the helicopters were to fly at 2500 feet over the Long Island Sound. The problem is that the 2500 foot over water rule ONLY applies to twin engine aircraft because they have floats. The smaller aircraft, which I believe are really causing the noise problem, do not and will not (under the proposed rule) have to follow the North Shore route.
Interestingly the North Shore noise problem was not addressed in a letter defining the voluntary agreement sent to Senator Schumer by the ERHC and the airport managers. It appears that nobody looked at the impact on the North Shore because if they did they would realize that use of the North Shore route forced the helicopters to fly over Great Neck, Manhasset and Port Washington as they headed for Long Island Sound.
Congressman Ackerman who represents our area and should have been involved in developing the agreement apparently was not. I met with Congressman Ackerman during his last campaign to discuss helicopter noise and some ideas I had with dealing with the problem. He came up with others and asked me to call him if I needed any help. I took him at his word but have yet to be able to talk to him again because his liaison people in Queens and Washington will not allow it.
Notwithstanding the fact that the helicopters’ pilots and operators are blamed for the noise problems I believe the ERHC really wants to help. For example when it was realized that the North Shore route was actually making the situation worse, the ERHC asked its members, though its Fly Neighborly program, to try and offload some North Shore route traffic by using mid island and south shore routes.
Furthermore, I was invited to explain the situation on the North Shore and the monitoring methods I had developed to attendees of the ERHC Fly Neighborly meeting last April. No representatives of the TONH or our congressional delegations attended. The pilots responded to my talk with ideas that included route changes, changes to FAA procedures and power speed profiles to mitigate noise. Other changes that should be considered include better flight scheduling, passenger loading, and floats for smaller helicopters.
In my opinion the new rule will, at best, keep the status quo. However, whatever the fate of the North Shore route, we must establish a meaningful monitoring program to help us determine the real reasons for the noise and how to improve the situation. Without correct and meaningful information we will be making new rules and blaming helicopter pilots and operators for many years to come.
Port Washington resident