State Senator Daniel Squadron, along with Congressman Jerrold Nadler, submitted testimony at a July 11, 2016 hearing on whether to extend Downtown Manhattan Heliport’s (DMH) concessionaire agreement with Saker Aviation Service, which operates tourist helicopter flights from the heliport. At stake is whether the concessionaire agreement would be extended through April 2021, with additional short-term renewal options.
The noise and hazards from tourist helicopters have long provoked the ire of many residents in the City, and in this neighborhood in particular, and spawned the protest group Stop the Chop NYNJ. Tourist helicopter flights had been banned at other heliports across the City, which then shifted all tourist flights to DMH. In October 2011, a tourist helicopter crashed into the East River, prompting renewed calls for an end to all tourist flights, to no avail.
In a February 2016 agreement, the City reduced the maximum number of tourist helicopter flights, and ended Sunday flights and flights over land. Not good enough, according to Senator Squadron, who made no bones about his long-held position – that all non-essential tourist helicopter flights from DMH must be stopped. His testimony included the following statements:
As we said at the time of [the February] agreement, reductions are an important and positive step, but an outright ban on tourist flights from DMH is still warranted. Since the February agreement went into effect, we have continued to hear concerns from impacted community members.
Tourist flights are by definition non-essential, and have not been proven to have significant benefit for commerce or safety. However, we recognize the role of DMH for law enforcement, emergency response, and other purposes. Today, both the 30th and 34th Street heliports still operate as heliports without tourist helicopter operations. Without tourist flights, DMH could, and should continue to operate as well.
Ending tourist helicopter flights at DMH continues to have broad support. After the February deal was announced, a broad coalition of elected officials renewed their call for a ban. Even the City itself has previously supported ending tourist helicopter operations. In its Helicopter Master Plan of 1999, it was clear that the City opposed non-essential tourist helicopter operations at City-owned facilities.
In the same February agreement, the City required air quality monitoring, and research into additional noise and emission reductions from the helicopter flights. The first report on these studies is expected later this week.