By Joe Anuta
Whitestone and Malba Gardens residents are being driven nuts by increased helicopter noise as more choppers travel to and from the north coast of Long Island, where a mandatory route bypassing Suffolk and Nassau counties begins about 15 miles away from the Queens border.
Community leaders gathered Tuesday to protest the noise, which they say has diminished their quality of life, frightened residents and reduced property values.
“There are days when homes vibrate, things fall off shelves,” said Alfredo Centola, of the Malba Gardens Civic Association.
The majority of the helicopters travel between helipads in Manhattan and points east along Long Island, including tony destinations at the island’s eastern forks, according to state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Electchester), who protested alongside homeowners this week.
Last year, in response to complaints of helicopter noise in Suffolk and Nassau counties and pressure from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Federal Aviation Administration instituted a mandatory North Shore route to push choppers out over the Long Island Sound and keep them from flying above residential areas.
The route begins off the coast of Huntington, L.I., miles away from Queens.
But how pilots get between Manhattan and that route is at the heart of the problem in Queens and the subject of hot debate.
A helicopter taking off from Manhattan and bound for Long Island has several possible routes, including a few crossing Queens and Brooklyn and one along the south shore of Long Island, according to flight maps. One of those routes flies directly over Malba and Whitestone.
The Eastern Region Helicopter Council, a nonprofit that represents helicopter pilots, contends the Malba and Whitestone route is the safest way to traverse the restricted airspace of LaGuardia Airport and travel on to the start of the North Shore Route about 17 miles away from the Queens border.
The council wants to get rid of the route, which would eliminate choppers buzzing Queens communities and allow them to fan out over the island, it said.
“Last year at the urging of Sen. Schumer and other Long Island elected officials, the FAA reduced the flight paths available and implemented a mandated North Shore route that requires helicopters to repeatedly fly over the Whitestone and Malba communities,” said Jeff Smith, spokesman for the council. “To best help the local communities, we urge Sen. Tony Avella and Assembly member Mike Simanowitz to talk to Sen. Schumer and the FAA to repeal the mandatory North Shore route and return to a more diversified flight path to alleviate the impacts to these important communities.”
But Schumer’s office countered that no one route over Queens is mandatory — the pilots are deliberately picking the shortest shot to the North Shore route to save time and fuel.
“The Eastern Regional Helicopter Council is either ignorant, lying or both — they could solve this entire problem by simply flying over water and flying higher, but so far they’ve refused,” said Max Young, spokesman for Schumer. “For the ERHC … to say that they are required to fly over certain houses in Queens in order to follow a proscribed route that doesn’t start until the middle of Long Island is absurd and dishonest.”
The council said it shares a goal with Schumer to end excessive noise for residents.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.