City Council Legislation May Have Little Effect on Helicopter Noise

In April we noted that the City Council was considering legislation

that would ban unnecessary (tourist and charter) helicopter flights, including all such flights to or from the Downtown Heliport directly accross the East River from Brooklyn Heights, and the 34th Street (East Side) Heliport, which generate much traffic that passes above or near the Heights.

Now, The Eagle reports that two bills pending in Council, one of which would ban “non essential flights” from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport directly across from Brooklyn Heights and the East 34th Street Heliport, and the other which would require flights using these heliports to have less noisy propulsion mechanisms, are, if enacted, unlikely to have much effect on the noise level. The Eagle story cites the city’s Economic Development Corporation as finding that only four percent of flights that drew 311 complaints started or ended at those heliports. The EDC, which operates the two heliports in question (see Gothamist article cited below) may have its own agenda on this matter, perhaps considering the economic benefits from helicopter tourism, or the benefit to the city’s most affluent residents of having fast and seamless transport to airports or to their summer homes, to outweigh the negative effects of noise.

The Eagle also cites Gothamist, which “tracked helicopter flights over Memorial Day weekend … and found that a majority did not take off from [either of the two city owned heliports]. Instead, a majority originated from airports either in New York or New Jersey. The city has no authority to regulate such flights, which fall under federal jurisdiction, nor can it enforce the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines requiring helicopters to maintain at least 1,000 feet of cruising altitude. Gothamist quotes City Councilmember Gale Brewer:

“New Jersey makes a lot of money,” Brewer said at a Council hearing in April, referring to profits generated by helicopter operations there. “I tried to stop it. It ain’t going to happen by itself without the federal government.”

Nevertheless, according to Gothamistthe two U.S. Representatives whose districts include areas heavily affected by helicopter noise: Dan Goldman, whose 10th District includes Brooklyn Heights both now and after the redistricting that takes effect in 2025; and Jerry Nadler, whose 12th District includes Manhattan from about 14th Street through Midtown and the Upper East and West Sides, have endorsed passage of City Council legislation on the grounds that, in Nadler’s words, “Something is better than nothing.” Also, the Gothamist article includes a pie chart that shows the distribution of flight origins on Memorial Day weekend. It shows the Downtown Manhattan Heliport as the source of 26 percent of the flights, the largest source except for “Other” (29 percent). Under he chart is this note: “The Downtown Manhattan Heliport is closed on Sundays, and the East 34th Street Heliport is closed Saturdays and Sundays, so they may be underrepresented in this data.”

Photo Credit: Stop the Chop NY NJ

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  • StopTheChop

    Gothamist/ WNYC reported on NYC area helicopter traffic yet didn’t interview the only nonprofit org (Stop the Chop NY/NJ) working exclusively on this issue for the past 10 years! Doing a weekend tracking of regional helicopter flights will NOT give an accurate representation of chopper traffic over NYC as Downtown Manhattan Heliport "DMH" (which hosts the 30,000 annual NYC-based sightseeing helicopters that fly up and down the Hudson River) is closed on Sundays! This closure is due in part to the advocacy work of STCNYNJ starting in 2014 to end the sightseeing flights originating from that heliport (originally 7 days per week). NYC Council bills in 2015 would have helped end that chopper noise and air pollution source, but then Mayor DeBlasio and the NYC helicopter industry agreed to cut the flight numbers from 60K per year to the current 30K (still an outrageously large number), end Sunday flights and overland tours. Thus, Memorial Day weekend 2024 had no NYC-based Sunday tourist flights, hence skewing the statistics! Additionally, the other NYC/EDC-run heliport at E. 34th St (used by Blade commuters in addition to W. 30th St) is fully closed on the weekends (thanks to Mayor Guiliani's efforts to help reduce noise and air pollution for East Side residents. Note, he fully shuttered the former E. 60th St. Heliport for those reasons too). The reporters didn't interview any New Yorkers who live/work/recreate near those two heliports, nor Brooklyn Heights residents across from DMH, nor along the Hudson River (a/k/a "Helicopter Highway") who are continually dealing with excessive noise from the 30K NYC-based sightseeing helicopters flying Mondays-Saturdays. No mention of the fact that Brooklyn Heights Council Member Lincoln Restler's bill (as well as NYC Majority Leader Amanda Farias' bill) would, if passed, end those 30K tourist flights and dramatically reduce noise for New Yorkers in Brooklyn Heights, the Seaport, Governors Island, Battery Park, Chelsea, Midtown, UWS, Harlem, Inwood, Washington Heights along the waterfront (in addition to our NJ neighbors on their side of the Hudson River as NYC tourist choppers fly back downtown on the NJ side). Blade CEO was interviewed about transportation infrastructure issues (clearly, he has his own agenda given his commuter helicopter business), yet the two Council Members who introduced the NYC council bills (which had a 4-hour Hearing 4/16/24) were not interviewed, nor even mentioned! NYC can't simply point the finger to blame NJ for the chopper problem given NYC's EDC hosts 30K tourist helicopters and approximately 14,000 commuter helicopter flights from both of its EDC-run heliports. Just as previous local administrations have done, as mentioned above, NYC has power to end these nonessential, polluting chopper flights and even close the heliports. There is precedent; we don't have to wait for FAA or State or Federal electeds to act in order to create significant reductions in chopper traffic over NYC.

  • StopTheChop

    Stop the Chop NY/NJ urges the Brooklyn Eagle and Brooklyn Heights Blog to update the reporting on this issue to include interviews with Stop the Chop volunteer Board members, and the NYC Council Members who actually introduced the two referenced bills (CM Lincoln Restler and Majority Leader Amanda Farias) in order to correct the story written by Gothamist / WNYC which was then quoted in the Brooklyn periodicals. The fact that the NYC-EDC run heliports are closed on Sundays (DMH for tourist flights and E. 34 Street's commuter flights) and Saturdays (at E. 34th St.) will absolutely "underrepresent" the helicopter traffic data collected from just one May weekend. Thus the entire premise of critiquing the City Council bills is flawed. These are serious concerns stemming from making faulty assumptions. This can have negative consequences for all those New Yorkers suffering from helicopter noise pollution if NYC cannot get meaningful relief through legislative, or administrative, changes. These NYC-based, fossil-fuel guzzling nonessential helicopters ARE much of the source of harmful noise pollution for too many New Yorkers. To believe otherwise is to fall into the trap laid by the NYC-based helicopter industry, their lobbyists and PR staff, and the few profiting from this polluting business at the expense of the public.

  • Peter Scott-Thomas

    The City has in the last decade or 2 gotten pretty "with it" in terms of data processing. It's not Claude's fault, but Dan or Gerald really should shine a light on where the traffic is going, rather than speculate as to what percent is taking rich people from Manhattan to 2nd homes.

    More to the point, what's really needed is a little fine-tuning of ROUTES. I'm sure that NJ heli-operators would prefer a straight line flight that often takes them over downtown Manhattan & Bklyn Heights, but the FAA has the power to insist that they avoid the former via a jog to the South – which, as it happens, would benefit us as well.

    It goes beyond noise. Inevitably, some helicopter will crash near the big 9/11 tower or City Hall, and 2-3 minutes extra per flight is a sensible, almost negligible, precaution.

    Nice that the 2 closest ones limit weekend flights, but I doubt that they're 9-5 operations. They probably should be!