When Brad and Angelina visited the Hamptons last summer to rub elbows with Christie Brinkley, Ellen Barkin and Jimmy Buffett, they arrived by helicopter.
When busy Wall Street power brokers wrap up merger deals on a Friday night, many dart to a Manhattan heliport for the quick trip to Long Island's tony eastern tip, slicing travel time to a fraction of what it would take to get there by limousine on the traffic-snarled Long Island Expressway.
Because of the speed and convenience they offer, a growing number of those who can afford to are taking helicopters to Long Island's summer playground for the rich and famous. But the trend has its detractors, who complain the racket the choppers make as they slice through the air is affecting the quality of life in the area.
Some liken Friday afternoons in the Hamptons to the helicopter attack scene in "Apocalypse Now," with a swarm of Sikorskys and Bells arriving from the city. Outbound traffic builds on Sunday afternoons into Monday mornings.
"It's the easiest way to get in and out of New York on the weekend," said retired investment banker Peter Wadsworth, a member of the East Hampton Airport Noise Abatement Advisory Committee. "If I was still working on Wall Street, I'd be doing it too."
'It's like having a rash'
Wadsworth said he first became annoyed by the staccato thump-thump-thump of helicopter blades while sitting in his hot tub years ago.
"It's like having a rash. You know once you start to scratch the itch, it just gets worse and worse," he said.
Money seems to be no obstacle for those taking to the skies, with one-way rates ranging from about $700 a person to several thousand dollars for charter flights. Time for these folks is more important than money, especially when an automobile trip from Manhattan to East Hampton sometimes can take four hours in heavy traffic. A helicopter flight takes about 45 minutes.
But complaints about the noise have gotten so loud that government officials have stepped in with a plan to alter the flight paths to reduce the chopper clatter in communities.
Sen. Charles Schumer helped broker an agreement with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council this winter to establish new routes and altitude standards to keep the noise down en route to and from the Hamptons — a confederation of villages and hamlets stretching 40 miles along eastern Long Island's south shore. Officials also want the helicopters to fly at 2,500 feet or higher for as long as possible before landing.
Because the new flight plans are voluntary — the FAA currently does not regulate helicopter routes — Schumer has announced new telephone hot line numbers for citizens to file complaints about chopper noise.
"They've gone unchecked, unregulated and unrestrained, but 2008 is the year we fight back," Schumer said.
The real test is coming
Robert Grotell, a special adviser to the helicopter council, said his organization has been "very, very aggressive" in getting its nearly 200 members to participate in the initiative.
"I have a great sense of optimism," he said. "We will aggressively approach this issue. We cannot let the situation that developed last year continue."
Rep. Timothy Bishop, whose congressional district includes eastern Long Island, said the first real test of the new procedures will be on Memorial Day weekend, when people start flocking to the Hamptons.
"I have scheduled a meeting in my office for June 2 with all the players — the airport managers, the FAA, the pilots association to review compliance," he said.
If voluntary solutions aren't found, Bishop said, he will consider legislation mandating the FAA take action.
"If you don't want legislation, show us you don't need it," Bishop said.
So what's a power broker to do?
The past several years have been bountiful for the helicopter companies that operate between New York City and eastern Long Island. The East Hampton Airport alone saw a 17.3 percent increase in 2007, or more than 1,000 additional helicopter takeoffs and landings than the previous year.
"The people that purchase these services want their services when they want them," said Jim Brundige, manager of the East Hampton Airport.
"I'm a high-powered executive and my wife and kids are out here for the summer," posits Brundige. "If I can't get out here till 1 o'clock in the morning because I'm working on a hedge fund deal or something, I'm coming at 1 o'clock in the morning and I don't care what it costs."