Despite recent regulation, the $50 million copter-tourism industry continues to plague many Manhattan residents. Will it take another tragedy before someone listens?
- Last Updated: 12:27 AM, April 22, 2012
- Posted: 10:31 PM, April 21, 2012
Whichever side you take in New York City’s long-standing helicopter wars, one thing is true: The views from one flying over the city, in all its five-borough glory, are magnificent. Rising from the Downtown Heliport, banking in a long slow turn towards the Statue of Liberty, circling the Lady at a respectful 1,500 feet, the helicopter I took then skirted the Financial District before heading up what our pilot kept calling the muddy Hudson, angling away from the George Washington Bridge (whose stanchions are a huge, hittable 650 feet) and eventually crossing the Upper West Side diagonally to reach The Bronx and Yankee Stadium.
We were flying the legal route — over water — rather than up West End Avenue, and staying high, at 2,000 feet, said our pilot.
In many ways this is a vast improvement — from a New Yorker’s point of view — over the old, pre-2010 days of completely unregulated small-plane and helo flights that flew pretty much at will.
Until recently, the universe of helicopters and small planes went basically unregulated under the Federal Aviation Administration’s “freedom to fly” principle that treated the skies of America — including skies over densely populated cities — as highways. Standard procedure was for small aircraft to fly under visual flight rules (VFR), using “see and avoid,” and keeping below 1,500 feet to stay clear of big planes.
“The sky is open hunting. Their freedom to fly is our freedom to suffer,” says East Sider Joy Held, founder of the Helicopter Noise Coalition, which, along with other activists, has successfully pushed very hard for route changes and restrictions over the years.
At their core, the helicopter wars are pretty simple — pitting the economic interests of the tourism industry (a record 50.5 million visitors spent some $32 billion in New York last year) against the neighborhoods in the flight paths.
In some ways, the neighborhoods are winning, having secured substantial concessions over the last few years. Because of a complex set of reasons, however, they often don’t feel like victors.
For one thing, the sheer volume remains daunting. In 2010 (the latest year for which data are available), well over 200,000 passengers took some 62,000 helicopter flights (down from a peak of 70,000) departing and landing at the city’s three heliports. Another large — but uncounted and unregulated — number of flights enter New York air space from New Jersey, Westchester and Long Island. And some 20,000 flights — also uncounted and unregulated — are made by emergency services, the Police Department, film and media crews and the military.Follow @NYPostOpinion