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Addressing Upper West Side Helicoptor Traffic

 

Dear Upper West Side Neighbor:

As State elected officials representing the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we write in response to recent complaints regarding increased helicopter traffic over the neighborhood. In fact, some constituents have noted that helicopters pass overhead as often as twice every minute, disrupting their lives and contaminating the environment with noise pollution.

Long-time residents might remember that this problem has arisen intermittently for many years and that we have been fighting, together with other elected officials and community-based organizations, to stop non-emergency helicopter flights over the City for more than a decade. Unfortunately, the fight continues.

The lack of a designated authority responsible for the oversight of helicopter traffic is the primary obstacle to mitigating the problem. The agency with exclusive authority over our airspace, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), does not regulate helicopter flights over Manhattan. The FAA classifies our airspace as Class G, or "uncontrolled."

Because there is no authority regulating non-emergency helicopter flights over Manhattan’s neighborhoods, helicopter companies operate with little accountability and our efforts to eliminate or even curtail their flights have largely been thwarted. In an attempt to overcome this obstacle, our offices are participating in a newly-formed Helicopter Roundtable hosted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The Roundtable has established a means of communication between elected officials, Community Boards, community-based organizations and the helicopter industry. Thus far, stakeholders have debated many proposals to address the noise pollution, including voluntary agreements with helicopter companies to route helicopters away from residential areas and a mandate that helicopters bear markers so that they can be identified from the ground. As we continue to pursue these ideas, we are also exploring other means of regulation as well as noise mitigation and we welcome your suggestions.

It is notable that to date, there has been one material victory in this fight. In 2008, Friends of Hudson River Park and a coalition of other community-based organizations successfully sued the Hudson River Park Trust, which operates the heliport at West 30th Street, resulting in a settlement that stipulates a series of reductions in the number of flights departing from that location.

According to the settlement, for the period of June 1, 2008, through May 31, 2009, the total number of tourist flights will be limited to 25,000; from June 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010, the number will be further cut to 12,500; and finally, as of April 1, 2010, all tourist flights from that location must stop completely. The settlement also includes a deadline for ceasing commercial, governmental and emergency operations from the West 30th Street heliport. Furthermore, until then, all flights departing from that location must fly along the approximate middle of the Hudson River, and not pass directly over Manhattan and our homes.

Unfortunately, there are other heliports – by Wall Street in downtown Manhattan, at East 34th Street and across the Hudson River in New Jersey, for example – from which helicopters may depart and fly over land, but this settlement is an important step in the right direction and we must be vigilant in ensuring its stipulations are enforced. Indeed, with your help, we may be able to reduce the number of helicopters in our airspace. The Friends of Hudson River Park encourages area residents to share photographic and video documentation of the helicopters that hover above our community so that violators of the settlement might be identified. Please send any time- and date-stamped photographs or video footage of apparently illegal helicopter flights to Matthew Washington, Deputy Director of Friends of Hudson River Park, at matthew@fohrp.org.

While we have been working on this issue for a long time, we nonetheless believe that, as a community, we can find a solution. We pledge to continue to work with other elected officials, advocates, and government agencies to resolve this irritating and long-standing problem.

If you have any questions, comments or ideas, please contact Jared Chausow in State Senator Tom Duane’s office at (212) 633-8052 or jared@tomduane.com or Gregory Monte in State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal's office at (212) 873-6368, jmonteg@assembly.state.ny.us.

Sincerely,

Thomas K. Duane
New York State Senate
29th District

Linda B. Rosenthal
New York Assembly Member
67th District