Calls on EDC and Administration to create a new helicopter master safety plan, update noise codes and improve the collection and responsiveness to complaint-driven data
April 18, 2018
City Hall – In response to last month’s tragic Liberty Helicopter crash in the East River that claimed five lives, Council Member Paul Vallone chaired a hearing of the New York City Council’s Committee on Economic Development focused on reevaluating the safety protocols and practices in the sightseeing and charter helicopter industries and addressing overwhelming community concerns regarding helicopter noise pollution.
Council Member Vallone focused on the many safety concerns that arose as a result of last month’s crash. Prior to the hearing, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) announced that they had executed a written term agreement with Firstflight Heliports, LLC d/b/a Saker Aviation Services to officially ban door-off tourism flights from operating out of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport (DMH). Despite this positive announcement, Council Member Vallone noted that a new helicopter master safety plan needs to be created after he pressed the EDC to explain the current existing safety regulations, whether they are derived from FAA mandates and if they are applied equally to corporate, charter and sightseeing flights, and what authority the EDC has to enforce additional regulations.
After EDC revealed that the sightseeing helicopter industry only provides $2-3 million in revenue for the City, Council Member Vallone and Committee members questioned whether this surprisingly small amount of revenue is worth the environmental impact, safety concerns and unending misery from noise pollution that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers face.
“Who do we bring to the table to tell the 8.5 million people of this city that they are safe? It’s clear after today’s hearing that the safety standards and operating procedures for any helicopter in New York City must be completely revisited, as well as a complete analysis of the economic impact the tourist helicopter industry has on our City” said Council Member Vallone. “Any new study should include not only sightseeing helicopters, but charter flights as well, which have long destroyed the quality of life of Queens and Long Island residents.”
With regard to noise pollution, the Committee heard Council Member Vallone’s resolution calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make changes to the North Shore Helicopter Route, which currently favors Long Island to the detriment of all residents in Northeast Queens. EDC expressed support of this issue and noted that the FAA would ultimately be the ones to make this change. In his testimony, David Hopkins, Senior Director of Aviation at EDC, stated that “we have advocated and will continue to advocate to the FAA that they reevaluate the allowable flight path for these charter flights. EDC would welcome participating in any working group that might be convened with the FAA on the issue.”
“Every day our residents must endure the constant onslaught of helicopter and aviation traffic and noise over their homes, while their quality of life is continuously eroded. I am tired of an industry that hides behind the FAA and Port Authority without offering any voluntary changes to a system that they can easily fix without legislation,” said Council Member Vallone. “Particularly in Northeast Queens, there has been a growing and seemingly endless attack by low flying charter helicopters above my constituent’s homes at all hours of the day and night. If the FAA is going to keep dragging their feet on revisiting the North Shore Route, we need to either stop this by having helicopters use the South Shore Route, or mitigate it by imposing on charter helicopters, the same restrictions that sightseeing helicopters have. ”
In his submitted written testimony, Joe Femenia, President of the College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association, stated, “Living in College Point, aircraft noise, including helicopters, have been an issue for many years. It is particularly annoying during the spring and summer months where more these flights take place and when we are outdoors trying to enjoy outdoor activities. I hope you can make a difference for our quality of life in College Point and Northeast Queens”
“The DMA represents 595 families in the Northeast Queens community of Douglas Manor,” wrote Michael Gannon, President of the Douglas Manor Association. “We receive the brunt of the traffic as helicopters enter and leave the FAA’s North Shore Route at the Nassau County line. While the noise and disruption to our quality of life peaks on Friday and Sunday during the summer vacation time period, it remains a year-round problem. Please support this resolution which extends the North Shore route westward to include Queens County.”
Council Member Vallone explained how the issue is made worse by the existing 311 system which can be confusing for residents to navigate and lacks many basic features which would improve the quality of data collected. He questioned whether the EDC even tracks or monitors this data due to a lack of transparency on the issue, and asked what the City is doing to improve their handling of helicopter noise complaints. He pointed to how the failures of the 311 system have led to private websites such as “Stop the Chop” being created to track complaints. Stop the Chop has received over 12,000 complaints in 2018 alone.
As a result of this hearing, Council Member Vallone called for the inclusion of aviation noise pollution in the City’s “Noise Code”, where it is currently not regulated. He noted that its inclusion in the noise code is absolutely warranted as helicopters often produce sound in the 80db to 102db range and that legislation will be drafted to codify aviation noise into law. He also made clear that the lack of regulations and restrictions imposed on charter flights has directly led to the noise pollution that plagues so many in the City. “Now more than ever, we need to address helicopter safety, operational procedures, restrictions and what we can do in regard to charter flights. What exists today, is clearly not working for the people of NYC.”