Aviation News

September 3, 2014

No More Helicopter Tours? New York and New Jersey Officials Seek a Ban

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Written by: Nate Anderson
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New York City is one of the most visited cities in the world, with over 52 million visitors taking a bite of the Big Apple in 2012. While there’s plenty to see and do on the ground, a growing attraction for tourists is taking a helicopter tour of the Manhattan skyline. Helicopter tour operators have experienced a great deal of growth in recent years, but with this growth has come increased concerns about noise and safety from residents living along the East River and Hudson River. For the past 18 months elected officials in New York and New Jersey along with community advocacy groups have been lobbying the FAA to impose limits on the number of tourist helicopter flights. Their efforts peaked recently when New Jersey lawmakers, led by Senator Robert Menendez, held a press conference calling for a complete ban of helicopter tours in the NYC metro area.

 

 

Currently there are five sightseeing helicopter companies operating from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport (JRB) and one company operating from the Paulus Hook Heliport in Jersey City. The tour route takes helicopters north up the Hudson River to either 79th St. or to Yankee Stadium and then back south down the Hudson corridor to the southern tip of Manhattan. The tours which last anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes give passengers panoramic views of New York landmarks such as the Empire State Building, World Trade Center, Central Park and the George Washington Bridge. The popularity of the tours have kept the operators busy. According to the New York City Economic Development Council (NYCEDC) which owns the downtown heliport where most of the helicopter tour flights originate, there were 33,378 tour helicopter movements during the 2013 peak season between April and October, an average of 185 flights per day from JRB.

A map of the departure route for tour helicopters from JRB (Source: ERHC)

A map of the departure route for tour helicopters from JRB (Source: ERHC)

This level of activity, which is in addition to other helicopter traffic over New York City such as law enforcement, medical and commuter flights, has raised the ire of residents living along the river in Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, and New Jersey, who complain of incessant noise. Responding to community pressures, the NYCDEC in 2010 collaborated with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC) – a local helicopter advocacy group – and the tour operators, to develop a plan to address noise complaints. The plan included consolidating all New York-based tour flights at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, eliminating the short duration tours since they were concentrated over New York Harbor, and eliminating direct overflights of Central Park, the Empire State Building and Brooklyn. In addition to these measures, the tour routes from JRB were modified to avoid residential communities in Brooklyn, and flights were instructed to operate at 1,500 ft. to reduce noise impacts. A similar agreement was struck at the Jersey City heliport in 2013, which included ending flights at 7:00 pm rather than 11:00 pm and eliminating simultaneous flight operations at the heliport.

While these measures have improved conditions in some areas, many still feel not enough is being done to curtail the helicopter noise. In a press conference on August 9, Senator Menendez called for a legislative ban to tourist helicopter operations.“We can’t have a sky full of helicopters,” the senator said. “There’s no consideration to the communities below their flight path.” Critics also point at safety, particularly the 2009 mid-air collision between a tourist helicopter and a small single engine plane, which killed all 11 passengers aboard both aircraft. Another concern is increased air traffic controller workload due to tourist helicopters flying above 1,000 ft. for noise abatement purposes. In a 2013 interview with the Newark Star-Ledger, Ray Adams, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at Newark International Airport, indicated that the amount of helicopter traffic under the control of Newark Tower has increased. “In the last couple of years, the volume has increased dramatically. That traffic has made our job extremely difficult.” Adams attributed much of that increase to tourist helicopter traffic. The FAA added staff at Newark Tower to coordinate the Hudson River helicopter traffic.

Despite all the controversy, the helicopter operators led by the ERHC continue to seek a collaborative measure to address community concerns instead of an outright ban. In a statement responding to Senator Menendez, ERHC Vice President Jeff Smith said “…as a recent NYU study definitively proved, the helicopter industry is a critical contributor to our local economy and – as we witnessed after Superstorm Sandy – to our region’s emergency response services. The report found that the helicopter tourism industry generates more than $33 million in economic activity each year and, as all tour operators are based in New Jersey, supports hundreds of local NY and NJ jobs.

The changes being proposed would significantly alter the federally regulated National Airspace system and harm the local New Jersey economy. Our helicopter owners remain committed to working collaboratively with local officials to find reasonable solutions that don’t strip New York and New Jersey of hundreds of jobs, millions of dollars in revenue and vital emergency response services.”

 



About the Author

Nate Anderson





 
 

 

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  • Alfonce

    they need to ban these freaking tourist helicopters once and for all. it isnt fiar for all of US residents that pay high taxes here just so that a few tourists can fly above us making our skies intollerable.

  • JC Heli Senshi

    Your story is flawed. We banned Jersey City tour operations at the end of 2013 and no cheapo tourists buying a $89 groupon ticket to make it a living hell for us living across from the helipad. We took over our waterfront parks from these noisy and jet fuel smelly pests and our kids can ride their bikes and play here again.

  • serizawa

    We could just create helicopters with lower noise footprints. The noise emanates from the sonic boom/s created by the blades spinning faster than sound. Surely the same physics applied to the stealth copters (concerning blade noise) that were sent in on the bin-laden mission can be liberally applied to commercial choppers?