NYC helicopter deal would reduce but not eliminate tourist choppers
Helicopter operators flying tourists over the waterfront will be reducing the number of flights from Pier 6’s Downtown Manhattan Heliport (DMH) by 50 percent, the city said on Sunday.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Helicopter Tourism and Jobs Council (HTJC) made the announcement jointly.
The city said that agreement would “significantly reduce the impact of tourism helicopters on New York City residents while simultaneously preserving an industry that brings in millions of tourism dollars each year.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, quoted in the release, said the deal will “significantly cut down on the number of helicopter tours near residential areas and major parks, while keeping this part of our tourism sector active and viable.”
“Everyone gave a little to get to this outcome, but the solution will mean a more livable city for everyone,” de Blasio added.
But John Dellaportas, president of an advocacy group called Stop the Chop called the deal a “PR ploy.”
“The sweetheart deal, which was negotiated in secret and without any community input, is totally unacceptable for addressing the air and noise pollution that the tourist helicopters cause,” Dellaportas said in a statement.
He added, “This so-called compromise actually entrenches the helicopter industry while doing nothing for New York City families, students, parkgoers and workers. We will continue to push for a full ban and expect the City Council to see through this PR ploy for what it is.”
Under the agreement, tour operators will gradually reduce the number of flights to and from Pier 6 by 50 percent by January 2017, resulting in the elimination of nearly 30,000 flights per year.
In addition, operators have agreed to end all flights on Sundays and prohibit flights over Governors Island. If operators are determined to have violated the agreement, NYCEDC will have authority to mandate further reduction in operations
Residents complain of noise, pollution
According to information from the Federal Aviation Agency, the DMH in the year ending Sept. 2015 supported an average of 159 takeoffs and landings per day, with 68 percent of these tourist flights.
Opponents of the copter flights say the nonstop noise is stressing out residents in their homes on both sides of the East River, along with visitors to parks — including Brooklyn Bridge Park — and students attending schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Governors Island.
In a City Council hearing lasting for hours in November, Brooklyn and Manhattan officials and residents expressed anger and despair over incessant helicopter noise and pollution.
The Brooklyn Heights Association has called for a ban on all tourist helicopter traffic at the DMH. The Eagle has reached out to BHA for a comment on this deal. (Check back for updates.)
In 2010, officials drew up new regulations, which altered flight paths, banned short flights and increased city monitoring. But state Sen. Daniel Squadron said in written testimony last November that those regulations did not work.
“By the Economic Development Corporation’s own account, few, if any, violations have been issued,” Squadron wrote. “Until our office’s recent intervention, the standard response to 311 complaints for helicopters included a request for helicopter tail numbers, an absurd requirement that caused many of our constituents to give up on reporting the noise at all.”
Two bills sponsored by Councilmembers Carlos Menchaca (Red Hook, Sunset Park), Helen Rosenthal (Upper West Side) and Margaret Chin (Lower Manhattan) last November sought to prohibit tourist helicopters altogether. Police, fire, news, and charter helicopters would be unaffected.
On Sunday, however, Menchaca, Rosenthal and Chin applauded the compromise agreement.
“Today’s announcement – a 50 percent reduction in tourist helicopter flights and no flights on Sundays — is a huge step forward in protecting the quality of life of thousands of New Yorkers, and offers our constituents some sense of immediate relief,” they said in a statement.
DMH is the only heliport in New York City that allows tourist flights. (The East 34th Street Heliport, NYC’s third heliport, was closed to tourist traffic in 1997, following litigation.)
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