Volume 81, Number 2 | June 9 - 15, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Ban unneeded copters

The issue of helicopters that use heliports throughout New York City has been a contentious one for more than a decade — and for good reason.

One can only imagine what it must be like to live near the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and have to constantly deal with the noise from copter after copter all day long. And it’s only getting worse.

Our elected leaders have banded together to call for a total ban on all helicopter flights related to tourism and the private sector leaving from the Downtown heliport. We strongly support this idea.

In 2003 the Federal Aviation Administration recorded 10,002 helicopter flights to and from the Downtown heliport. In 2008, that number jumped to a whopping 57,984. Of the nearly 60,000 flights, 39,694 were categorized as “air taxi,” as opposed to “military” and “itinerant.” “Air taxi” is a phrase that applies to tourism and the private sector. Sightseeing companies advertise a helicopter ride as the best way to see Manhattan, from high above the ground as opposed to walking the streets that are bursting with history, and with history being made.

Many of these helicopter flights leave Lower Manhattan bound for the Hamptons. Their passengers are in the position to pay exorbitant prices to avoid the traffic on the weekend that they would encounter on the Long Island Expressway. It’s an issue that has led to the locals on the East End protesting in the same way the residents of Lower Manhattan have been. It’s a quality of life issue, one that illustrates the class wars that have and are still dividing this city and country.

The presence of this nonessential helicopter traffic also exponentially increases the danger of accidents in the overcrowded New York City air corridors. The disastrous collision in August 2009 of a sightseeing helicopter and a private plane off 14 St. over the Hudson River is a case in point. In a worst-case scenario, there is always the real risk of a copter crashing into our waterfront parks or streets, or a residential building.

As for the West Side Heliport, at 30th St. in the Hudson River Park, thanks to the settlement of a lawsuit filed by Friends of Hudson River Park, tourist flights ceased there as of April 1 of last year — which likely has upped the volume of flights at the Downtown heliport. The Hudson River Park Trust has committed to relocating the heliport by 2012. Meanwhile, commercial, government and emergency helicopter flights continue there. There is no reason that this heliport should be sited in this narrow, heavily trafficked, beautiful park right next to a major highway. Again, this poses not only quality of life issues, but genuine danger to park users and to many others.

We don’t want the heliports to disappear. Instead, we want them to continue to exist, out of necessity. Their use should be reserved for the most essential governmental, medical and emergency services. The city’s Economic Development Corporation likes to point to the economic impact resulting from these helicopter sightseeing flights. But we would instead choose to support the view of one of our local congressmembers.

In a recent letter to E.D.C.’s president, Representative Jerrold Nadler said, “This is not a segment of the tourist industry we truly need, and we feel quite confident that, should the heliport be closed, visitors would spend their dollars on other New York City attractions.”

We wholeheartedly agree. And for those seeking a quick flight to the Hamptons, they should have to travel a little farther from the density of Manhattan before boarding their helicopters.

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