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What’s that sound? If you live on the West Side, it’s probably a helicopter. Whether it’s a BLADE ’copter headed to the Hamptons, a mysterious, low flying helicopter over Hell’s Kitchen, or airborne police activity, locals and New Yorkers at large are growing almost as fed up with the not-so-ambient noise as they are of the city’s rampant rat problem – leading lawmakers to press for fewer choppers circling the Big Apple. 

The heliport on the West Side Highway in front of Hudson Yards. Photo: Gary Hershorn

The New York City Council held a special hearing with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) on Tuesday to discuss solutions for the future sustainability, safety and quality of life issues surrounding the city’s heliports. Council members stated that after rodent-related complaints, helicopter noise was the second-most documented source of stress for constituents. 

“We’re talking about almost 26,000 complaints in 2021 – this is completely unacceptable,” said Council Member Ari Kagan — broken down, 311 helicopter noise calls amount to approximately three complaints an hour. An EDC senior vice president at the meeting countered that only five percent of noise complaints were related to non-essential helicopter activity. Another major sticking point was the proliferation of commuter flights from New Jersey, which the EDC said they would not be able to ban without federal approval, because the vehicles cross state lines. 

The hearing, which did not finalize policy on the issue, was part of a larger movement by local leaders to enact legislation that would cut the number of low-flying choppers over the five boroughs. In June, the New York State senate passed the Stop the Chop Act on to Governor Kathy Hochul’s office. The bill, introduced by Senator Brad Hoylman, was designed to ban non-essential heliport use throughout Hudson River Park. 

NYPD helicopters circling Hell’s Kitchen have also been a source of complaints.

“New Yorkers can no longer work from home comfortably, enjoy a walk along the waterfront or keep a napping child asleep because of the incessant noise and vibrations from non-essential helicopter use,” testified Hoylman. “Helicopters are not just a simple nuisance: noise pollution can have serious health effects, such as hearing loss, stress, memory impairment, high blood pressure, muscle tension, ulcers, fatigue and sleep problems, and can reduce cognitive ability in children and adults.” 

He also highlighted the environmental costs of keeping choppers in the air.  “One helicopter produces 43 times more CO2 per hour than an average car. This legislation would create a right of action against any person who creates an unreasonable level of sustained noise at ground level from certain helicopter flights, and amend the Hudson River Park Act to further restrict helicopter use in the park.” 

Council Member Gale Brewer is also leading the charge against errant choppers, urging Governor Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams to close the W30th Street Heliport and introducing Bill 226, which “would prohibit sightseeing helicopters from taking off and landing at heliports owned by the city if those helicopters do not meet the stage one, two or three noise levels for helicopters as determined by the Federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990.” The legislation is co-sponsored by 31 other council members, including District 3’s Erik Bottcher. 

“These complaints have gone up over 2,300% in the past five years,” wrote Brewer. “21,620 of the complaints filed in 2021 came from Manhattan, illustrating the disproportionate impact on our communities. Helicopter noise penetrates every corner of the island, and I am firmly committed to ending non-essential helicopter tour flights and addressing the rise in charter flights.”

Brewer also co-sponsored Bill 551 – a proposal introduced by Council Member Lincoln Restler that would “require the Department of Small Business Services to require the New York City Economic Development Corporation to prohibit all non-essential helicopter operations at heliports owned or operated by the City.”

City Council Member Gale Brewer hopes to crack down on choppers. Photo montage: Phil O’Brien

While there’s been no vote on the measures yet, citizen advocates from nonprofit Stop the Chop NY/NJ say that the best thing for New Yorkers to do is to keep on making their own noise to 311 about the issue

“We have heard frustrations from our members generally dealing with 311 helicopter complaints as the complaints are closed and that some are not being accepted,” Stop the Chop president Melissa Elstein told The Brooklyn Eagle as she advised locals to persevere through the system’s user-unfriendly menu. “It is clear that the true number of helicopter complaints to 311 would be even higher if the complaints process was less confusing.” 

And while chopper noise may haunt the New Yorkers of today, tomorrow’s threat may come in the form of tourist-piloted joyrides as recreational helicopter startup eVTOL sets its sights on Manhattan for its next market, sending lawmakers over at the edge at the idea of hobbyist would-be pilots flying over Midtown. 

A helicopter lands at W30th Street in Hudson River Park. Photo: Gary Hershorn

“The idea that one hour of training could prepare somebody to operate a 400-pound potential death trap in the middle of the most congested area in the country is mind-boggling,” Council Member Restler said  to AMNY. “The FAA needs to step up and step in and stop this from happening yesterday.”

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2 Comments

  1. For me, my complaints are around 1) For when I’m home: Tourist helicopters, of which 95% originate in New Jersey, hovering above Central Park and going up and down the river 2) For when I’m being an out and about: Central Park and Governor’s Island/downtown. Governor’s Island is not relaxing at all with all the helicopter activity. I feel for people who live along the water near there too! Since most of the helicopters are from NJ on the west side/central park, I had been filing my complaints with FAA, but I don’t know if that helped/they care. This is beyond NY and NYC legislation.

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