Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn may get reprieve from Manhattan’s noisy helicopters

November 14, 2023 Raanan Geberer
An electric helicopter
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Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Andrew Kimball announced a plan Monday to create a hub for sustainable electric helicopters at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport — the source of many of the noisy helicopters that residents of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn have been complaining about for years.  

Under this plan, DMH, which is directly across from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, will aim to become the first heliport in the world with the infrastructure to support electric vertical take-off-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft — which eVTOL advocates say are quieter than the usual jet fuel- or gasoline-powered helicopters.

Residents of Downtown Brooklyn-adjacent areas have been complaining about the noise from helicopters — especially tourist helicopters — flying over the area. On Thanksgiving 2022, Adrian Benepe, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, tweeted, “Thanksgiving Day in NYC was destroyed by the feckless, greedy tourist helicopter industry.”

Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a news conference where he announced the city’s support for electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in New York. Two eVTOL aircraft, the Joby eVTOL, background, and the Volocopter 2X, were displayed and test-flown for city officials at Manhattan’s downtown heliport. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

At the same time, the Brooklyn Heights Association backed a bill, introduced by City Councilmembers Lincoln Restler (D-Brooklyn Heights-Greenpoint), Gale Brewer (D-Upper West Side) and Shahana Hanif (D-Carroll Gardens, Park Slope), to eliminate non-essential helicopter trips over the city. In addition, non-politicos who object to helicopter noise have found a home in an organization called “Stop the Chop.”

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As early as 2015, similar legislation was being introduced to the City Council to ban tourist helicopters, which many say are noisier than other helicopters. An Eagle article from that period quoted the Brooklyn Heights Association as saying that flights out of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport had soared 600 percent during the 14 years previous — after two other heliports were closed to tourist helicopters in 1997 and 2010.

NYCEDC plans to seek an operator to upgrade the city-owned heliport to provide the supporting infrastructure for  the eVTOL aircraft, as well as last-mile and maritime freight delivery. The RFP also calls for plans for onsite workforce development training in aviation, maritime and other relevant sectors. 

“Today, we are taking sustainability to the sky and our streets, and New Yorkers can feel the electricity in the air in our city as we electrify our heliport infrastructure,” said Mayor Adams. “Our vision for the Downtown Manhattan Heliport will create the world’s first heliport with infrastructure for electric-powered aircraft and put this public asset to work for New Yorkers as a hub for sustainable development and local deliveries.”

Kimball, who was the CEO of Industry City before he was tapped by EDC, commented, “NYCEDC’s new strategy for the Downtown Manhattan Heliport reflects these priorities while making it an industry leader in the embrace of eVTOLS — a quieter and greener helicopter alternative — while at the same time facilitating maritime freight with last-mile e-bike deliveries that will take trucks off the roads.”

This diagram shows the possible future configuration for the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, which is directly opposite the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Illustration courtesy of EDC

NYCEDC is requiring the future operator for DMH to ready its infrastructure in advance of certification to position New York City at the forefront and launch the market for this emerging industry. In a first-of-its-kind event in the U.S., two eVTOL companies — Joby and Volocopter — conducted piloted demonstration flights of eVTOL aircraft from an urban heliport at the DMH. 

Additionally, BETA Technologies, another company in the field, demonstrated the multimodal interoperable electric charger it developed. The heliport is slated to be redesigned to support infrastructure to support electric aircraft. Federal Aviation Administration certification is anticipated as early as 2025 with commercial flights to start shortly after.

“For too long, loud, low-flying, nonessential helicopters have been a major source of reduced quality of life for New Yorkers” said Melissa Elstein, chairperson of the aforementioned Stop the Chop. “The vision of a ‘quieter and more sustainable’ multimodal port with alternatives to fossil-fuel based helicopters and as a ‘hub for sustainable transportation’ is an important first step by Mayor Adams’ administration.”

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