Volume 79, Number 12 | Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Copters take flak at a hearing

By Albert Amateau

Anti-noise and air-traffic safety advocates joined elected officials at a Tuesday hearing by the City Council Transportation Committee on improving air safety following the Aug. 8 helicopter crash with a private airplane over the Hudson River in which nine people were killed.

The crash involving a sightseeing helicopter from the W. 30th St. heliport in Hudson River Park provoked repeated demands Tuesday for banning such tourist flights, and inspired more demands for closer Federal Aviation Administration control over chopper and private planes flying beneath 1,100 feet.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer proposed separate altitudes — 1,100 feet for small planes and 500 feet for helicopters — which prompted boos and jeers from audience members long concerned about helicopter noise.

Stringer, however, also proposed a moratorium on sightseeing flights.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried submitted a statement that said, in part, “We do not need sightseeing helicopter rides. … [W]hatever sightseers spend on a helicopter ride they would eagerly spend on some other activity.”

Under the settlement of a 2008 lawsuit by Friends of Hudson River Park, sightseeing flights from the 30th St. heliport will cease as of April 1, 2010, and the number of tourist flights from W. 30th St. was reduced to 25,000 flights in the year that ended May 31 and to 12,500 for the coming year. Matthew Washington, Friends deputy director, told the committee the lawsuit was filed to eliminate the noise that disturbs park users.

“While our suit was not based on specific air-traffic concerns, we hope these efforts will aid in a reduction of potential dangers,” he said.

Ken Paskar, a Lower East Side resident and a general aviation pilot for 30 years, told the committee that the F.A.A. has rules for flights at all altitudes, but at 1,100 feet and below, the agency does not require private pilots or helicopter pilots to file flight plans or be in radio contact with flight controllers. The “see and avoid” rule governs low-altitude air traffic.

Paskar, a volunteer representative with the F.A.A. Safety Team but testifying as a private citizen, said rules for the Hudson River corridor could be improved. He noted that in the Washington, D.C., area the F.A.A. requires general aviation pilots to take a course on “see and avoid” rules. Paskar said a similar course should be required of pilots flying the Hudson River corridor.

Congressmember Jerrold Nadler submitted a statement calling on the F.A.A. to use its authority to control airspace below 1,100 feet. Nadler repeated his demand that small aircraft must install a Traffic Collision Avoidance System and a Mode C transponder, which make low-altitude aircraft aware of each other.

Joy Held, president of the Helicopter Noise Coalition, said sightseeing copters are “utterly unnecessary, dangerous, noisy, a serious security risk and they cause pollution.”



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