EDC Staffers Offer Little Hope for Helicopter Noise Reduction; Velazquez Urges Bloomberg to Ban Tourist Flights

Two representatives of the City’s Economic Development Commission, Josh Nachowitz and Patricia Ornst, gave a presentation yesterday to the Finance District Committee of Community Board 1, which encompasses downtown Manhattan, concerning efforts to alleviate noise from helicopters using the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. Several Brooklynites were present by invitation, including Judy Stanton, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, BHB reader and frequent commenter Jeffrey J. Smith, a woman resident of One Brooklyn Bridge Park, and your correspondent. The EDC duo began by asserting that there has been a reduction in helicopter noise complaints, but, when asked, couldn’t say by how much. They then shifted to saying there had been a reduction in the number of flights because of the agreement to end “short tours” that circled the Statue of Liberty then returned to the Heliport. Asked about a recent increase in flights, Ms. Ornst echoed T.S. Eliot in saying April is the cruellest month, breeding not lilacs out of dead land but tourists yearning to see New York city from aloft.

Asked if the city could limit the number of flights from the Downtown Heliport, Mr. Nachowitz said there is a “capacity limit,” but didn’t specify what that limit is. At one point, there was a mention of 200 flights having occurred daily; asked if this meant a total of 400 takeoffs and landings, Mr. Nachowitz said, “Not necessarily.” The EDC representatives said the limits on flight paths were being effectively enforced, with four pilots having been hit with $1,000 fines for violations. Mr. Nachowitz urged residents to use the 311 reporting system, specifying the helicopter’s color, tail number and location. Asked about the effectiveness of such complaints in determining violations leading to fines had occurred, he said there were ways of corroborating 311 complaints so that violations could be verified.

A downtown Manhattan resident who serves on the C.B. 1 Financial District Committee raised the issue of pollution from helicopter engine exhaust, which he said is blown into the streets and is hazardous to residents’ health. He asked if the EDC was willing to cooperate with the EPA and the Committee in studying this problem; the EDC representatives said that was possible.

Mr. Smith, brandishing a sheaf of computer printouts, said that a few minutes of web research had produced numerous examples of safety violations by the helicopter industry, and that the industry was notorious for its casual approach to safety. He said that continued operation of tourist flights from the Downtown Heliport assured that there would be a serious accident.

A representative from State Senator Daniel Squadron’s office said that the Senator had been involved in negotiating the agreement on limiting tourist flights, but had now concluded, as had other elected officials, that the issues of noise and safety could not be satisfactorily addressed except by a complete ban on tourist flights. The EDC representatives responded that such a ban would simply mean that the flights would continue, but that they would originate in New Jersey, thereby eliminating the City’s ability to regulate flight paths. Ms. Stanton pointed out that moving the flights to New Jersey would be a good result from the perspective of Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan residents, as it would eliminate the noise of takeoffs and landings, as well as helicopters warming up or idling on the Heliport.

We have also, courtesy of the BHA, received a copy of a letter, dated yesterday, from U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez to Mayor Bloomberg, urging the Mayor to ban tourist helicopter flights. Noting the efforts to mitigate the noise and safety issues over the past year, she said that it is now evident to her, as well as to state and city officials who have also been involved, that “incremental steps will not address the core problem.” Her letter notes that the noise problem arises not just from helicopters in flight, but from those doing the mandatory half hour warm-up before takeoff. The water around the Heliport amplifies the sound of the helicopters’ rotors, increasing the impact on nearby residents. Her letter also stresses the safety issues, noting that the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t regulate flights under 1,500 feet and pointing to a fatal collision that occurred in August of 2009. Her letter continued:

All concerned parties have worked to find compromise, but the solutions to date have not addressed the underlying problem — namely, that helicopter tours are a bad fit in such a densely populated urban area. The city’s tourism would not suffer if tourist helicopter rides were suspended. In fact, the quality of life and neighborhood tourist destinations on the ground would improve. Tourists can find equally spectacular views of the city skyline at Brooklyn Bridge Park or the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and other world-famous destinations, without noise that disrupts the community.

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  • gc

    Thanks to our elected officials and other concerned citizens for keeping at this issue. On a beautiful day like today the helicopter noise is just about constant. A few weeks ago I was down on the Promenade and counted 26 landings or takeoffs in a 20 minute span around this time of day!

  • epc

    Nice writeup Claude.

    I really encourage people interested in this to call 311 with complaints. I know it’s a pain, but if there’s no data trail it’s difficult to counter the logs maintained by DMH.

  • Heightser

    As I sit at home today, it is as bad as ever. Will call now.

  • resident

    Just out of curiosity, where are people suffering from this disturbance? I admit to occasionally noticing the choppers when I’m at the park, though I don’t know if that’s from tourist or regular flight use. When I’m at home, I only ever notice helicopters when there’s a traffic reporter eyeing some disturbance on the BQE.

    Are there particular parts of the neighborhood that suffer continuously? I can sort of see the residents of one brooklyn bridge park having a problem, with the building being significantly closer to the helipad than others.

  • Matthew Parker

    Gee, it was only a few years back that Mayor Bloomberg was on a big kick to make the city quieter:


    Anyone remember that?

  • epc

    In DUMBO there’s a chopper every 7-10 minutes during the day, with more at the rush hours. The routine traffic is a mix of DMH flights as well as flights from the 34th St heliport on the East River. When I moved in in 2007 it was more like one chopper every 15-20 minutes (ignoring NYPD and news choppers).

  • epc

    Feel free to log data at http://bitly.com/bkhelihell as well but calling 311 is probably the best way to get hard data recorded (the results from the bkhelihell survey can be found at http://bitly.com/bkhelidata).

  • nero

    There should be notices posted along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and the Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront encouraging people to call 311 if excessive helicopter noise is disrupting their ability to enjoy the park.

    Now, if only the parade of double decker tour buses could be prevented from disrupting what should be the quiet enjoyment of the evening sunset and the Manhattan skyline along the Joralemon Street portion of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

    What is really irksome is that the detour along Joralemon is completely unnecessary. The buses provide adequate views of Manhattan and the harbor all along Furman street. Furthermore the overlap of bike lane and vehicular roadway on Joralemon Street creates a very dangerous situation- especially for kids.

    Lastly, tour buses would never be allowed on the roads inside Central Park – why then is it OK in Brooklyn Bridge Park? (nor would be the incessant noise of helicopters be allowed in CP – especially on UES)

  • Matthew Parker

    Nero: You bring up a good point about roads in BBP. Due to the footprints for the proposed future housing towers, much of the area that’s around those footprints is not park at all–it’s an extension of the City street. And as such, any street traffic can drive down those streets, including tour buses.

    Perhaps if another method is found to fund the park other than the proposed towers, all the area for the tower footprints and access roads surrounding them can be converted to actual parkland.

  • Arch Stanton

    Tour buses, that’s what water balloons are for.

  • Claire

    FYI — the 311 system is a straw man. Since the choppers are PERMITTED to fly at 300′ through Buttermilk Channel, and to idle on the DMH helipads, they will never be cited for the noise (or pollution) that they make, as long as they aren’t flying directly over the Piers, eg. — and the EDC is unwilling to cut back on the number of flights. And since we could file a report roughly every 2 minutes (seriously– for 7 days/week up to 9 hours/day), we’d be spending all our time online or on the phone, doing nothing but upping the frustration level!

    Thanks, Claude, for this report.

    And ps, I agree re the tour buses at Pier 6. Of course, they COULD go down Furman and turn right to park at the foot of Atlantic Avenue…..

  • bklyn20

    While it is laudable to stop the tourist helicopters, I wish they could also stop the traffic helicopters. Why can’t there be one traffic chopper and the tv stations all share the footage? How many artistic shots of BQE blockage can there possibly be?

    I do of course think there is altogether too much asphalt and concrete in Brooklyn Bridge Park. I also hate the buses. BBP seems to make its own rules about so many things, or at least tries to, that I am surprised that they can’t make a no-buses rule. The area surrounding 1 BBP resembles nothing so much as an airport terminal crossed with a strip mall (so much grey and tan hard surfacing.) There is hardscape where landscape should be.

    Didn’t Adrian Benepe just declare additional quiet zones (Bethesda Fountain) in Central Park? Why can’t we use that precedent to apply for some quiet parts of BBP, aside from normal park activities like noisy kids, sports, occasional events and dog runs? Interesting that there is a sign in the dog run regarding barking after a certain hour, but the big red belching buses in the evening are ok. Does the BBP Corp get money for letting the buses go through? Except for the transverses, there are no buses, I am pretty sure, driving around in Central Park. No luxury condos there requiring public roads. When will BBP become designated parkland and cease being a development project?

  • Jeffrey j Smith

    I refer everyone to the full report about what happened at the
    meeting of the Community board #1 which appears already two
    places on this blog, includingthe open thread.

    There was the standard stonewalling from the city that they cant really do anything and with the rules they have we should all be grateful that we are getting the level of action we are.

    But for the first time one of the council members first complained about the toxics being emitted by the big turbine engines and
    THEN began to speak to the dangers of TWO HUNDRED PULS take offs and landings a month

    When I was recognized, I showed the many web sites of law firms
    seeking clients from Helicopter crashes…then I simply (and loudly)
    asked what everyone thought a chopper comming down in lower Manhattan or Downtoen Brooklyn would be like…the impact, the
    fuel explosion, what they thought the toll from shrapnel alone would be..how about the huge projectiles the rotors would instantly likly become.

    Lots of well, dopes, in the Heights think this kind of thinking is silly
    But a considerable number of the council members held no such illusions..I was greatly thanked for my remarks as I exited the meeting.

    You can read the full report on the open thread…..

  • davoyager

    We now know choppers can be outfitted with noise reduction technology and so it’s not a stretch to think such remedies should be required in a densely populated world capital such as NYC.


    It is perfectly clear that the power behind this horrible helicopter intrusion is our “I-don’t-give-a damn” Mayor Bloomberg.
    The Mayor’s shucking and jiving representatives would fit perfectly in a regime in a banana republic. What a disgusting performance.
    We must continue to publicly push and push on this and do what it takes to get relief.

  • BH Resident

    Why aren’t our City Councilpersons introducing legislation to ban tourist flights? Not clear why the mayor needs to do it.

    I am starting to wonder what the volume of campaign contributions from the copter operators is, given the level of inaction (despite the lip service) on this issue.

  • David on Middagh

    There’s at least one helicopter hovering noisily over North Heights / DUMBO right now.

  • Red Hook

    At this point over in Red Hook the tourist helicopters are flying right over Valentino Pier Park. The flights on weekends seem endless. We counted 24 flights directly over the park in 1 hour. It’s shocking . Calling 311 at this point seems like a complete a complete joke. The calls are directed right to the NYCEDC. Its laughable. The DEP should be taking these calls instead of EDC.The EDC and Mayor Bloomberg have no interest in ending these flights. They are one in the same. Its all about making money . Former mayor Guilliani had a full ban on all tourist helicopter flights. Mayor Bloomberg re instated the flights. Shame on you Bloomberg.

  • Big Dave

    Stop all flights, except police and news. Period

  • epc

    If you don’t call 311 then nothing is logged.

    If nothing is logged, nothing will happen.

    Everyone who thinks a chopper is too loud, too close, etc. should call 311.

    And for good measure, our local councilman.

    Yes, it’s a royal pain in the ass, but sitting back and waiting for someone to do something has resulted in …nothing.

  • Red Hook

    I agree we call 311 everyday. I do think the helicopter 311 system needs to be handed over to the DEP. Have you ever tried following up on your 311 complaint. It just says Past Due. NYCEDC(Patricia Ornst) is not willing to provide accurate data or follow up on helicopter complaints . They give vague answers to everything. It’s not in there best interest . We need a real transparent 311 complaint system accessible to the public. I smell a bit of corruption (EDC, Grottel Consulting, ERHC).

  • BH Resident

    Who is the city councilman for bklyn hts again?

  • epc
  • ABC

    I live btw henry and hicks so not that far off the promenade, and I never hear helicopters unless there’s been an accident on the Brooklyn Bridge or something. I can hear them if I’m down on the water, but even on the promenade, it’s nothing I notice.

  • Jeffrey j Smith

    The core of this is really two elements

    1) the danger of having SO MANY aircraft in SUCH A SMALL

    2) The increasing amount of aircraft overhead is…prisoner training
    You are being Trained as subjects, not citizens, to expect
    and tolerate whatever government (and the forces behind
    government) decide they want to do. This is part of the reorien-
    tation of all of you during this transition period between the
    old constitutional republic and what is (shortly) to come.
    Notice how you are being trained that you have no real power
    and they can endanger you any way they want without you
    having any recourse..?

    You are being trained, in this and many other ways, to be

  • winstion Smith

    Jeffrey J. Jingleheimer Smith, (sorry, couldn’t resists that) Please call your doctor and tell him you are having a relapse…

  • Jeffrey j Smith

    You’ve just seen the level of “debate” on the other side

    You know, its interesting. Whenever you touch the the profound
    differences between our heritage of freedom and what we are currently being ushered into, someone, usually with a casino background, starts throwing rocks…..

  • Mona Bregman

    I live in a high rise building, on a high floor, facing south.There are times that 2 choppers take off within seconds of each other. Last week, in the space of 60 seconds, three choppers took off. It is not possible to note the number, color etc. of each helicopter. They move too quickly. I call 311 and each time, I have to listen to a speech about about how the EDC is in charge of the situation. The Mayor will never stop them, He says that they are bringing money into the city. Why not move them back to the west side where there isn’t any housing?

  • Jeffrey j Smith

    First a group of west side activists stopped complaining and at thier own expense set up a series of video camera with the right lenses to document what was occuring above their heads. They were intelligent enough to know if you dont do things yourself intially it wont get done.

    The friends of the park on west 30 street then, brought a land-
    mark legal action the resulting judgement of which forced the air traffic to leave the west side location and come down to the downtown heliport (and into our laps)

    But notice that the west side knew THEY had to take action
    and pony up the money to make it happen..

    Not just complain or endlessly ask for air transport industry to behave itself or for disinterested government agencies to come
    to the rescue.

    you may ask, with the BHA being one of the best financed neighborhood associations in America and the Heights being
    one of the best legally represented per capita communities
    in the nation, why is it the NOT ONE ATTORNEY is proposing legal action? Why is that? they all forgot how to ask for a judicial intervention?

    Local associations from a community like the Heights lack the
    the resources to bring a VERY credible legal action?

    When You ask those questions everyone gets very quiet and no
    one wants to answer anything…….

    or as said above, ALL this is to aclimate everyone to the transition
    between being citizens to being subjects in the system now being
    ushered in…where they can do anything to you and you have
    no recourse.
    the transition between being ctizens and being subjects

  • Claire

    @Mona — I was just going to make that point! I tried filling out the 311 form online, but the time to fill out the form took longer than the time between takeoffs, so I soon gave up. And as for the West Side– there was litigation that removed the tourist helicopters, since they were forbidden under the terms of the Hudson River Park.

    And if NYC is so concerned about tourist money as a revenue source, maybe Bloomberg would reverse all the draconian budget cuts to cultural institutions all over NYC.