As everyone knows, the super-rich take helicopters out to the Hamptons every weekend. The Chairmen begin coming out on Thursday afternoons; then on Friday mornings come the CEOs; and then later in the day, the VPs. They land 50 minutes later either in Westhampton at Gabreski Airport, or in Southampton at the Village Helipad on Meadow Lane or in East Hampton at the airport there. So they are constantly flying from and to the city, Thursday to Monday, and this creates quite a racket when they come in low.
The only control the towns have over the helicopters is in the landing fees they charge, which currently run around $100. You’d think the Federal Aviation Administration would have control, but they don’t either. Congress only mandates to the FAA the control of airplanes, although 30 years ago they did notice that helicopters were up there too. You might have thought Congress would add helicopters to the list, but they haven’t. There are all those helicopter lobbyists that have to be dealt with and that takes more than 30 years, apparently. So it’s kind of a Wild West sky up there on the helicopter front.
On the other hand, the chopper owners and pilots want to make it work. So there has been a handshake agreement with the towns—stay up higher than 2,500 feet when coming out here, then settle straight down when you get to the pad, and most of them are now abiding by that.
Even so, the complaints about the noise have grown louder and louder over the years. Before the handshake agreement four years ago, the Mayor of Oyster Bay complained loudly, “If they thought that flying through your front door and out the back door would save five minutes, they’d do that.”
But now, even with the agreement mostly being adhered to, there have been still further complaints, prompting the formation of a group called the Multi-Town Helicopter Noise Advisory Committee (MTHNAC) and, more recently, a more angrily named Citizens Alliance to Cancel Helicopters (CATCH), headed up by Barry Raebeck, who lives in a new development in Wainscott—the airport was there first—just under the flight path of the arriving aircraft and choppers.
“While only dozens benefit,” he wrote recently to the East Hampton Town Board, “thousands of innocent and unwilling people are having their peaceful summer and weekend days ruined by this ongoing aerial assault.”
Raebeck recently said he counted 53 helicopters in a three-hour period coming over his house one Friday night.
Nevertheless, the Towns and the FAA people, who now say they are giving up on Congress after the most recent noise control bill for choppers went down in flames, are continuing to work to limit the noise problem.
The matter came up again last week at a Town Board meeting where they again went over the landing fee rules, which now are $100 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and then 20% higher between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Maybe this was not enough. Councilman Theresa Quigley said they ought to have a $25,000 fine for chopper pilots who violate the altitude restrictions. (These people apparently don’t realize how quickly choppers can leave the scene of a crime.)
The most interesting thing talked about, however, was what came out of a meeting between the Town and the FAA in which sympathetic FAA agents said they were working on a rerouting scheme for the choppers flying out to the Hamptons. They may not control helicopters, but they can direct the routes they take. Personally, I found this conversation incredible, since part of this proposal would have the helicopters fly over the most exclusive estate section in the Hamptons—Georgica Pond. Talk about a 30-year wait with Congress. For Georgica Pond and their lobbying ability, it would be a 100-year wait.
Here’s the plan. Under present FAA rules, and remember the FAA controls flight paths only, choppers are supposed to follow a northerly route out of New York City, staying low under a ceiling restriction but above the skyscrapers, from Wall Street through mid-town, then above the Whitestone Bridge across the East River to Queens and then out over Long Island Sound, just off the beaches there, and on to eastern Long Island now above the minimum altitude to where they peel off and come over the land to land at the respective chopper pads.
But the FAA is re-thinking this. The biggest problem over land seems to be over Noyac, Sag Harbor and then over Raebeck’s and others’ houses in Wainscott. Why not have them come in from the south?
The new plan, for East Hampton anyway, would have the FAA change the city rules to lighten the load over Manhattan, the East River and Queens and along the northern route. They now propose that the choppers headed for East Hampton, which are about half of them, take a southern route out over the ocean. They come along the ocean beaches, then at Georgica Pond make a sharp turn north and fly directly over the pond to make their landing at the East Hampton Airport.
Thus will the residents of the new housing development in Wainscott be spared.
I think there is only one way that flights over Georgica Pond could be successful, and that would be as groups of helicopters escorted by armed escorts.
The packs of choppers should take off every four hours at exactly 8 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., and 8 p.m. By Mr. Raebeck’s calculation, that would be a herd of about 100 at a time. I’m told those British Harrier Jets, which for 40 years were so successful in defending British military operations and which can fly straight up and down, have now been retired. Buy them up. Have one at the front, one at the rear and two along each side of the herds, and have them fully armed and flying along to fend off whatever might come up at them from Georgica Pond, manned by pilots wearing cowboy hats.
It is going to be war.