Picture it – another hot and humid summer afternoon on Long Island. There you are, you master of the universe, sipping a margarita or perhaps a frozen daiquiri, or both, as you lounge on the patio of your beachfront home enjoying another weekend in the Hamptons. Not a care in the world. And then you hear that the Federal Aviation Administration (the “FAA”) has not extended the North Shore Helicopter Route rule, which will expire on August 6th. You start to tremble. What will happen on August 7th with no North Shore Helicopter Route rule? Will you be forced to travel in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Long Island Expressway, take a bus or the Long Island Rail Road? Yikes. Take another sip of your frozen concoction and relax. Commuting by helicopter to and from the East End will not end even if the rule is not extended. Moreover, the FAA is actively involved with stakeholders on this issue and is considering various actions.
Prior to 2008, helicopters transporting folks between New York City and the Hamptons used three common flight paths: (1) the northern route, flying along the northern coast of Long Island; (2) the southern route, flying along the southern coast of Long Island; and (3) the LIE route, flying above that famous highway. Helicopter pilots preferred the northern route because it was faster and was less prone to weather delays than the southern route. Residents on the north shore were less enthusiastic as the summer helicopter traffic over their homes rapidly expanded as did the level of noise they incurred at all hours of the day and night.
As a result, in 2008, the FAA added the North Shore Helicopter Route to its flight charts as a voluntary means of diverting helicopter traffic flying overhead along the northern coast line, placing the route about a mile off the coast over the Long Island Sound. The North Shore Helicopter Route starts off of Huntington, (about 20 miles east of New York City) and continues to the end of Orient Point on the North Fork.
The North Shore Helicopter Route was made mandatory in 2012 by the FAA. The rule mandating the off-shore northern route was initially enacted for a two-year period. It was extended for an additional two years in 2014 and will expire on August 6, 2016, absent a further extension.
The North Shore Helicopter Route rule is codified at 14 CFR Part 93 and requires helicopters to fly at least 2,500 feet above sea level along the route over the Long Island Sound. The rule does not contain “waypoints,” which means that helicopters do not have to pass over specific points along the route. Also, there are no specific transiting points along the route, meaning that helicopter pilots are free to choose where they turn toward the south. In addition, a helicopter pilot can deviate from the route at any point for safety reasons or because of weather conditions or when transitioning to or from a point of landing. Typically, helicopters cross over land at Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island to head south to the Hamptons.
There has been some talk about changes to the North Shore Helicopter Route, such as requiring helicopters to fly around Orient Point and Plum Island before heading south. An off-shore South Shore Helicopter Route is also a possibility. We’ll keep you posted of further developments.