As if the significant increase in noise from overhead airplanes hasn’t been enough, residents of Whitestone and Malba also have had to contend with excessive disruptions from helicopters passing directly over their houses.
The problem stems from a Federal Aviation Administration mandate last year that choppers traveling between the middle of Long Island to the Hamptons must fly over water in an effort to decrease the overhead noise for residents of the island. Following the requirement, helicopter pilots began seeking a faster and cheaper route, resulting in more flights over northeast Queens.
On Monday, area residents were supported in their struggle by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who later acknowledged the source of the problem, and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) at a Malba press conference.
The senator pointed out that noise from helicopters had never been a problem in the past, with only an occasional police chopper passing overhead, but “not regular traffic from Manhattan. Shockingly, there’s no oversight for helicopter routes. It’s the most amazing thing we’ve come across.”
Ralph Cefalo, a resident of Malba, noted the situation has been going on for several months. “It’s gotten increasingly worse,” Cefalo said. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to do something about it.”
Linda Ermann of Whitestone has noticed that “since springtime, there’s a pattern. The helicopters come east on Friday and west on Sunday. Everyone’s flying out to Montauk. A lot of people have more money to fly.”
Whitestone’s Joe Bono said the problem has been in existence longer than that. “It’s gotten progressively worse the last couple of years. You can’t even hear yourself talk if you’re on the porch. Over an hour, you can easily see five come over.”
Bono indicated that the people he has written to complaining about the situation, including elected officials, “didn’t know whose jurisdiction helicopters come under.” He said he kept getting letters back saying, “We’ll look into it,” but nothing was done.
With Avella’s involvement, Bono was optimistic. “I feel we’ll get more done now,” Bono said.
A statement from the office of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said: “Sen. Schumer pushed for an over-the-water route between Huntington and the North Fork of Long Island and will continue pushing for extended over-the-water routes as well as higher altitudes to protect New Yorkers from the incessant drone of low-flying helicopters.”
Avella and Simanowitz are calling for a review of the helicopter routes over Whitestone and Malba. They are also requesting a briefing from the Department of Homeland Security and Gov. Cuomo regarding the security concerns with commercial heliports within the city and the use of private helipads.
According to those at the conference, neither the FAA, the Transportation Safety Administration nor the Port Authority take direct jurisdiction over commercial or private helicopters operating in the metropolitan area.
A spokesperson for Avella later indicated that while the FAA does have jurisdiction over the flight paths, the agency has no control over helicopters in private helipads or on the ground.
Avella termed this lack of oversight “disconcerting,” adding, “This clearly poses serious safety concerns that need to be addressed immediately.”
Simanowitz agreed, saying, “For safety reasons it would make sense to move the helicopters out to sea. Terrorists are getting smarter. They are engineering new ways to strike fear. This would be a catastrophic way to do it.”
The two elected officials have written to both the NYC Economic Development Corp. and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council regarding the excessive noise, urging “immediate steps in mitigating this problem so residents can resume a normal quality of life.”
Alfredo Centola, president of Malba Gardens Civic Association, said the helicopters are “ridiculous. Houses vibrate. Things are falling off shelves. It’s a nightmare. My kids are waking up because the helicopters are literally shaking the whole house.”
In response to an inquiry from the Chronicle, the FAA issued the following statement: “The FAA’s mission is to ensure the safe and efficient use of our nation’s navigable airspace. The FAA does not have the authority to prohibit aircraft from flying over a particular area unless the operation is unsafe or the aircraft is operated in a manner inconsistent with FAA regulations.”
According to Avella’s estimate, between 1,000 and 1,500 homes in Queens are being affected. Centola put the figure at around 2,000.