Saturday, January 28, 2012

Helicopter-Noise Complaints Soar in New York City: Chopper industry leaders and public officials can’t agree on reason for surge in reports

The Wall Street Journal
By Paul Berger and Tom McGinty
Sept. 4, 2019 7:00 am ET

Noise complaints about helicopters flying over New York City are on course to reach a record level this year.

But helicopter industry leaders and public officials can’t agree on the reason.

Some blame a few city residents lodging the bulk of complaints. Others say the rise is caused by unregulated helicopter tours flying from New Jersey or a surge in flights to the Hamptons.

Federal and local officials can’t tell if the rise is tied to an increase in helicopter traffic because no one, including the Federal Aviation Administration, tracks how many flights pass over the city each day.

Annual noise complaints to New York City’s 311 service hovered around 1,000 in each of the past three years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of city data. At its current rate, the city is on track to receive more than 1,800 complaints by the end of this year.

Complaint hotspots include Midtown Manhattan, areas bordering Central Park and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. A significant part of this year’s surge is a rise in complaints close to the East 34th Street Heliport.

The city logged 280 complaints this year through Aug. 26 in the area to the south and west of the heliport. That same area logged an average of 14 complaints during the same period in each of the five previous years.

The heliport is owned by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. City officials say that there hasn’t been an increase in operations at the heliport. They believe the rise in noise reports, most of them anonymous, is driven by a small number of households filing multiple complaints.

However, almost half of the complaints in that area this year were made on weekends, when the heliport is closed.

Anthony Grubic, a leader of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who is based at LaGuardia Airport, said that, after reviewing the location of the complaints, a helicopter tour company based out of New Jersey was probably the cause.

New York City tightly controls helicopter tours that take off in the city. In 2016, the city cut the number of annual flights in half by imposing a cap of 30,000 tours a year. The city forces tour operators to use its heliport in lower Manhattan, and it restricts flights to staying over New York’s waterways.

But FlyNYON, a Kearny, N.J.-based company, isn’t subject to those rules and conducts tours over the city seven days a week. The company’s website shows images of passengers with their legs dangling out of helicopters over city landmarks.

Mr. Grubic said FlyNYON’s helicopters often hover over Central Park. They then fly south along the East River before turning inland and flying over the southern part of Midtown Manhattan, where passengers get views of landmarks such as the Empire State Building.

Patrick Day, the chief executive and founder of FlyNYON, said his helicopters fly too high above the city to generate noise complaints. Mr. Day said that his helicopters maintain an altitude above 2,500 feet over Midtown Manhattan. The company’s flights neither take off nor land in the city.

Mr. Day blamed the increase in complaints on a ride-sharing helicopter service, Blade, which runs routes to New York’s airports and to the Hamptons.

A spokesman for Blade said that the company flies primarily over water while FlyNYON hovers around iconic buildings. “It’s self-evident that FlyNYON, as the only operator offering tours above Manhattan, must be a significant cause of noise complaints,” he said.

The surge in complaints follows a spate of helicopter accidents. Five FlyNYON passengers died in 2018 after their helicopter fell into the East River and rolled over. The passengers weren’t able to free themselves from special harnesses that allowed them to move around the aircraft. The company has since changed its restraints.

In May 2019, a lone helicopter pilot escaped unhurt after his aircraft crashed into the Hudson River. The following month, a pilot for a private company died after he became disoriented in bad weather and crashed onto the roof of a Midtown skyscraper.

Following that crash, Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velázquez called on the Federal Aviation Administration to ban nonessential helicopter flights over the city. An FAA spokesman said Tuesday that the agency would respond directly to the congressional delegation from New York.

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