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Noise complaints taking off in the Hamptons as visitors, locals hop on cheaper chopper flights

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EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. - It's summertime in the Hamptons and the biggest buzz is coming from the sky.

Complaints about noise coming from aircraft ferrying visitors and locals to and from one of America's best-known playgrounds for the rich and famous have more than tripled over last year, due in part to a new service that lets people book 40-minute chopper rides from Manhattan for relatively cheap prices.

Between the helicopters, corporate jets, seaplanes and other aircraft, residents say life in the vacation paradise has become a nightmare.

"It is extremely disruptive," says Teresa McCaskie, who lives in Mattituck, 15 miles north of East Hampton Town Airport, which has logged 14,000 takeoffs and landings through early August, up 2,000 from last year.

McCaskie says she can't sit outside on her deck in the afternoons because of the clatter of helicopters that travel from Manhattan, across the Long Island Sound and directly over her house.

"There are some that are just unbearable — the sound of the thumping," she says. "The pounding sound when you're standing on your back deck and your deck is vibrating and it's pounding your windows."

Bob Malafronte, a retired New York City teacher who lives in Sag Harbor and is a member of a noise abatement committee, said he wants either an outright ban on helicopters or a requirement that they fly 20 miles farther east over Long Island Sound and then turn south over Peconic Bay — keeping them over water for a longer time.

While East Hampton operates the 600-acre airport, neighbouring Southampton, Shelter Island and Southold towns are pressuring their neighbours for quiet.

"It has affected the quality of life for these people who are living under the flight path," says Southampton town supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. "Some (planes) come in at such a low altitude that you can look up and see the wing numbers."

East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell knows he has to do something. Through early August, the town's airport noise hotline had received 11,758 complaints, up from 3,335 from the same period in 2013.

Cantwell said the town is studying whether no longer accepting funding from the Federal Aviation Administration would allow them to restrict the number of flights. Currently the FAA has no restrictions. He said he needs to balance the complaints of residents with aircraft operators' rights to ply their trade.

While chartering a helicopter ordinarily costs about $3,000 a trip, a new service called Blade that operates out of New York City allows passengers to buy individual seats on choppers for about $500 a trip.

That has made a Hamptons helicopter trip a more affordable option for many visitors seeking to avoid the chronically jammed summertime traffic that can make the 100-mile journey a four-hour ordeal.

"I'm taking this helicopter because I was very busy and I wanted to make it to my daughter's birthday," said attorney Matthew Kidd as he waited for a flight at the 34th Street heliport in Manhattan.

Added consumer products executive Jonathan Teller: "It's expensive, but relatively speaking, for the convenience, for the fact that you know how long it'll take you to get out to Long Island ... it makes it valuable for me."

Liberty Helicopters, which operates the Blade flights, did not respond to messages about sales figures for the new service.

Jeff Smith, vice-president of operations for Eastern Regional Helicopter Council, a trade group that represents operators of about 110 helicopters in the New York City area, said figures are still being analyzed for the cheaper helicopter flights, but a new market has definitely been tapped.

Smith said East Hampton would be taking an economic hit if it were to restrict flights or reject FAA funding.

"Those folks are some of the biggest economic supporters for the town, both in terms of the property taxes they pay and the money they spend when they are out there," Smith said.

His organization opposes any effort by East Hampton town officials to shun FAA financing, citing safety concerns.

Smith also said proposals to force helicopter pilots to fly farther east before turning toward East Hampton were "unrealistic." He said he would welcome a meeting between helicopter operators and the residents.

"All options should be open."


Associated Press writer Verena Dobnik contributed to this story from New York.

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