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
Standing on a rooftop garden on Riverside Drive in the 80s on a Saturday morning in April, I timed helicopters coming from multiple directions every three minutes — the skies were never quiet.
Imagine how it was before the collision of a small plane and a tourist helicopter in August 2009 that left nine dead, after which tougher regulations were drawn up by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC) and five helicopter tour operators.
The plan eliminated tours over both Central Park and the Empire State Building, banned all sightseeing flights over Brooklyn, abolished all short tours of four to eight minutes, and curtailed the tour routes.
NYCEDC also redirected all tours to the city-owned Downtown Heliport, banning them at the West Side’s 30th Street Heliport (which is to be closed by Dec. 31 of this year — though its operators may reopen elsewhere) and the East Side’s 34th Street Heliport.
All sightseeing helicopters now approach and depart the Downtown Heliport from the south, maximizing their distance from Brooklyn Bridge Park. All tours are supposed to avoid flying over land by following the center of the Hudson River north to either 79th Street or Yankee Stadium, before returning south by flying down the west side of the Hudson. All flights are to be at 1,500 feet or above.
These are impressive reforms. The lucrative short hops (for $130 per person!) to the middle of Central Park — then hovering over Sheep Meadow — have been halted. There’s no more buzzing of the Empire State Building. The EDC’s recommended altitude of 1,500 feet is about three times as high as helos were routinely flying in the old days. Former pilot Robert Grotell, special advisor to ERHC, is surely correct when he says, “There’s no better noise mitigation than altitude. The higher the better.”
Why then does Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who represents the West Side, continue to get angry complaints about helicopters? “My biggest constituent issue on nice days,” she says.
One reason is that the many helicopter pilots are apparently not complying. On Easter weekend, dozens of flights were made up and down West End Avenue, for example. Even when no helicopter was in sight, the air filled with a low, constant rumble. Says Grotter, “A helicopter can be over the water where it belongs, but its noise footprint will extend inland beyond the river.”
And it remains dangerous. Former Marine Corps helicopter pilot Justin Green, now a lawyer who has represented helicopter pilots, says of the Hudson River corridor, “That’s a really narrow slice of air space below 1,100. If I’m smart, I have my map out, I’ve turned my radio to the right frequency, I start self-announcing and I keep my head on a swivel. There will be fixed-wing coming in from Teterboro. You may have a wandering blimp. There’ll be helos taking off from different parts of the city — including 30th Street — and climbing up into the air space.Follow @NYPostOpinion