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Helicopter News Roundup

If you’re a helicopter operator or you’re a member of the ’copter community, here are some of the latest industry headlines from the Helicopter Association International’s RotorNews.

East Hampton drops weekend helicopter ban proposal

April 8 — The town of East Hampton in Long Island, NY has dropped plans to ban all helicopters on weekends during the busy Hamptons summer season.

The proposal was an attempt to reduce East End residents’ quality-of-life complaints from air traffic noise, but was abandoned due to concerns about aircraft being diverted to neighboring towns.

In early April, Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said the town board would still seek to impose nighttime curfews on flights at the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott, and a one-trip-per-week limit on some aircraft. The board voted on the rules April 16 and seeks to implement them before Memorial Day weekend in May.

East Hampton's revised proposal consists of a curfew on takeoffs and landings from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., an extended curfew for noisy aircraft from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m., and a rule limiting noisy aircraft to one trip per week from May through September. The town defines noisy aircraft as models that exceed a certain decibel level.

Those three rules, without the ban, would still affect 75 percent of helicopter takeoffs and landings on summer weekends and holidays at East Hampton Airport, according to Harris Miller of Miller & Hanson Inc., a Massachusetts-based noise consulting firm hired by the town.

The town is facing a lawsuit from helicopter pilots and aviation industry members seeking to block the regulations. East Hampton’s attorneys have warned that a judge could throw out the rules if they are deemed too broad or discriminatory against certain aircraft.

Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the aviation industry group, Friends of East Hampton Airport, said that even without the ban, the other proposed rules will "close off the airport to the vast majority of traffic," resulting in a loss of economic activity on the East End.

Orange County Fire helicopter crews now ready to fight night fires

April 5 — Until last month, if the Orange County Fire Authority received a call for air assistance, two helicopter crews would work a staggered 12-hour shift up to 8 p.m. during the week, and one crew worked a 10-hour shift on weekends, running the risk of small fires at night growing into larger ones, and injured or stranded hikers or bicyclists in sparsely populated areas facing longer wait times for help.

But on March 20, the OCFA’s air operations center at the Fullerton Municipal Airport began a six-month pilot program in which its four birds rotate 24-hour shifts to cover day and night calls.

Under a new program, one aircraft will be staffed with a pilot and crew chief, with a firefighter/paramedic rescuer added on the weekends, at an annual cost of $1.5 million. OCFA has also received military-grade night-vision goggles and training for its pilots to fly helicopters on night missions.

The policy shift comes six years after an independent auditor recommended the fire authority could improve after the 2007 Santiago Fire that scorched more than 28,000 acres and destroyed 14 homes in Orange County. The program is expected to save $6,000 because only one helicopter crew is working instead of two.

US Army aviation seeks to modernize helicopters

March 30 — While military budget cuts are in the works, helicopter modernization plans are underway, according to US Army aviation officials at a recent industry conference in Nashville.

Army aviation research and development is active around the globe, with a focus on the need to be ready for anything. Behind the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP), the greatest emphasis is on technology to see and fly through dust, fog and other obscurants, known as degraded visual environment-mitigation (DVE-M).

Well-funded with research and development dollars, the plan is to accelerate DVE-M efforts and potentially collaborate with ground vehicle developers.

The DVE-M program — led by the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama — blends multiple sensor technologies such as radar, infrared, and laser detection and ranging, also known as LADAR, with advanced flight controls and visual cueing and symbology.

ITEP is the number one priority for aviation modernization as a means of extending the range, speed and power of its Black Hawk and Apache helicopters. The program is aiming for preliminary design requests in May and a 2023 production goal.

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