New Yorkers fed up with chopper noise are demanding that city heliports ban flights by tour companies, charter services and air taxis.
Witnesses told a City Council hearing that the roar of tens of thousands of flights a year creates a constant disturbance to their lives—indoors and outside.
“My kids are woken up by helicopters every morning,” said Ashwin Padmanabhan, 47, a consultant who lives in Battery Park City and has children who are 10 and 13. “The apartment shakes. Six-thirty a.m., without fail, a…commuter helicopter from one of the airports” flies by on its way to Manhattan’s West 30th Street Heliport.
“We’ve stopped using the park, we’ve stopped family picnics, we’ve not gone to Governors Island. We pray for foggy, dry days, which are the only days you can use the park.”
The city has three publicly owned heliports. The East River sites—at Wall Street and East 34th Street—are managed by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The West 30th Street heliport, owned by the state and managed by the Hudson River Park Trust, prohibits sightseeing flights.
Noise complaints about helicopters have grown exponentially. In 2021, calls to the city’s 311 service more than doubled, to 25,821. Over the past five years, Amanda Farías (D-Bronx), the council’s Economic Development Committee chair, said there’s been a 2,329% increase.
— nycchoppertracker (@manhattanchopp1) November 29, 2022
At the joint hearing with the State and Federal Legislation Committee, corporation officials emphasized that most noise complaints stem from flights originating in New Jersey. In October, they accounted for 57% of 1,917 calls to 311, said Andrew Genn, senior vice president of transportation.
The East River heliports are used for flights by city emergency services, medical providers, news agencies, private charters and the military. The downtown site is the only one that allows sightseeing tours, which must fly only over water.
“We’re not fighting medical [flights], that’s not what this hearing is about,” said Andrew Rosenthal, an Upper West Side resident who is president of the nonprofit Stop the Chop NY/NJ. “This hearing is about banning non-essential traffic. So don’t distract with organ transplants and NYU or Mount Sinai.”
Our office introduced a bill to ban non-essential helicopter flights. This isn't just a quality of life issue – it's about climate justice. 1 helicopter idling is the equivalent of 40 cars!
I pushed EDC for the elimination of these flights that are disrupting our communities. pic.twitter.com/MOzipYD2Kg
— Lincoln Restler (@LincolnRestler) December 2, 2022
A 2016 agreement between the city and the Helicopter Tourism and Jobs Council capped yearly flights out of the downtown heliport at 29,651.
“This is a problem that could be solved today, before we leave the building,” said Rosenthal. “And we can set the rules to these concession agreements, which we’ve done successfully. We can do it again. And we can say this year, it’s not 30,000, it’s 15,000. It’s 10,000. It’s 2,000. It’s zero.”
Yet further limits on flights could create more problems, said Mikelle Adgate, senior EDC vice president for government and community relations.
“Would that market then move to New Jersey?” she said, adding “we then don’t have any control, because tour flights that come from New Jersey don’t have the same requirements.”
We discussed how federal jurisdiction over helicopter regulations affects the City’s management and how we need to have greater cooperation between our City and our neighboring states to ensure they are following the regulations New Yorkers need for their daily quality of life.
— Council Member Amanda Farías (@CMAmandaFarias) November 29, 2022
A council bill proposed by Lincoln Restler (D-Brooklyn) that would ban non-essential flights from the East River heliports has yet to come up for an Economic Development Committee hearing.