Senator Schumer’s Proposed Regulations Do Not Address Track Route
At the Village of Floral Park Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, Aug.17, Trustee Mary-Grace Tomecki reported that proposed regulations to reroute helicopter traffic over Long Island communities do not address chopper traffic over Floral Park. “The regulations that Senator Schumer proposed about two months ago state that all helicopters must fly over water, but he’s speaking about utilization of the North Shore route,” Tomecki clarified.
Tomecki has been following this issue regularly during her tenure as a trustee and has developed a close working relationship with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC) on behalf of the Village of Floral Park. Tomecki said conversations with the ERHC informed her that Senator Charles E. Schumer’s proposed regulations deal solely with the two North Shore routes. Decreasing helicopter pilot’s use of the Track route — a flight path that allows helicopter pilots to use the main line of the LIRR, which cuts through Floral Park, as a series of guideposts to locations such as MacArthur Airport and the Village of Southampton — is not on the table, Tomecki added. The Track route “is not something that these regulations even propose to have an impact on,” she said.
There are two helicopter routes that border the North Shore: One puts chopper traffic over residential communities, and the other puts it over the Long Island Sound. When LaGuardia Airport uses runways 22 left and 22 right, helicopter pilots cannot fly over the Long Island Sound. As a result, over the last two years, those pilots have been flying over communities such as Manhasset and Port Washington, and there has been a lot of outrage among residents. In addition, Floral Park has picked up some of the traffic. When pilots cannot fly over the Sound, some opt to navigate the Track route instead.
To be sure, Tomecki conceded, Senator Schumer and his staff have been very vigilant over the years about promoting what is called “equitable distribution helicopter traffic.” He would prefer all pilots fly over water, “but the reality is if a helicopter is headed for MacArthur airport, the pilot is going to fly straight down the middle,” Tomecki said.
In addition to proposing that all helicopters must fly over water, Schumer’s regulations also propose that all helicopters should fly at 2,500 feet. The problem with that is that with the Track route, if Kennedy Airport is using runways 22 left and 22 right, helicopters cannot fly at 2,500 feet because they’ll interfere with airplane traffic. Airplanes headed to Kennedy fly over Floral Park at anywhere from 1,000 feet to 2,500 feet altitude, depending on the ceiling of clouds. The FAA regulations dictate that there has to be at least 1,000 feet of separation between aircraft, which would put the helicopters at 500 feet.
“What I have advocated for [through conversations with Senator Schumer’s office], is when Kennedy Airport is using runway 22 left/22 right, there should be no helicopter traffic,” Tomecki asserted. “It seems unfair to me; there is an equity issue there. If we’re already dealing with planes every 30 to 60 seconds, to put another layer of aircraft noise coming from helicopters at 500 feet is an undue burden.”
Kennedy runways 22 left and 22 right are used when winds are south/southeast, which is mostly during June, July and August. That also happens to be same time when most helicopters use the Track route to travel to Eastern Long Island.
Despite that twist of air traffic fate, Tomecki is still a staunch supporter of Senator Schumer’s efforts. “I applaud his efforts because truly anyone who’s willing to work to improve the quality of life on the ground for those communities that are under air traffic, that’s a good thing.”